Congress returns for final sprint of session
Both houses of Congress are scheduled to return to Washington this week for a final period of legislating before the end of the 115th Congress.
The House is scheduled to leave on Thursday, Dec. 13 while the Senate is scheduled to adjourn on Friday, Dec. 14. But Congress could stay in session longer if the necessary if end-of-the-year business is not completed by the target dates.
The No. 1 item of business is to pass a fiscal year 2019 appropriations bill covering the departments and agencies that have not been funded by the bills passed earlier this year. The current continuing resolution for those departments and agencies including the Agriculture Department runs out on Friday, Dec. 7.
Leaders of the House and Senate agriculture committees say they still hope to finish a farm bill this session, but they have not shown signs of reaching a final agreement over the Thanksgiving break.
Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., last week accused the Trump administration and House Republicans of holding up the bill over a demand to include changes to forestry policy after Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke held a news conference asking Congress to give them new authorities in forest management.
House Agriculture Committee ranking member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., who will chair the committee in the next Congress, signaled his frustration over the break when he said in Minnesota that if the bill does not pass he wants to organize his committee quickly in January and bring up the farm bill in short order.
Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, has said that the farm bill might be added to the appropriations bill so that House leadership would not have to bring it up as a separate piece of legislation that might not have the support of a majority of Republicans.
Grassley said he learned of that possibility in a conversation with a conferee when he was trying to find out whether there will be floor time for the prison reform bill that he and Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., have sponsored.
The Senate is scheduled to go into session at 3 p.m. today, with the first item of business to begin voting on the confirmation of Stephen Vaden to be Agriculture Department general counsel. Vaden, who is serving at USDA in an acting capacity, is a controversial nominee due to his past legal work on voting rights and due to his possible role in some of the Trump administration’s early decisions.
The Senate Agriculture Committee has scheduled a hearing Wednesday on the nominations of Mindy Brashears to be Agriculture undersecretary for food safety, Naomi Earp to be agriculture assistant secretary for civil rights, and Scott Hutchins to be agriculture undersecretary for research, education and economics.
The House is scheduled to meet at noon Tuesday and begin to consider legislative business at 2 p.m., with votes postponed until 6:30 p.m.