Congressional outlook
The Senate and House returned July 8 and 9 respectively from their brief July 4 recess. Before leaving town, Congress passed and sent to President Trump a $4.6 billion emergency spending bill to provide humanitarian aid and assistance (PDF) at the southern U.S. border. Congress will be in session just a few short weeks before their traditional August break that will extend until after Labor Day. They will have just six weeks in session before the federal fiscal year ends on September 30. The House completed work on many of its spending measures in June, including a package  (PDF) that includes funding for USDA programs.

While the House has already passed most of its fiscal year 2020 spending proposals, complete action on fiscal year 2020 measures is not likely to be achieved until after an agreement is reached on new spending levels. Bipartisan congressional leaders have been negotiating with administration officials to find a pathway for lifting scheduled mandatory defense and domestic spending cuts. Without an agreement on new spending levels, statutory sequestration cuts set in 2011 would automatically cut defense and domestic budgets by $126 billion for FY20. Congressional leaders and White House aides are also negotiating raising the debt ceiling – the nation’s borrowing authority – with key leaders such as Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi saying that spending caps and the debt ceiling should be addressed together.

Farm Bill implementation
On June 26, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue announced an update on the status of implementation of the 2018 Farm Bill which was signed into law in December of 2018. Secretary Perdue provided the status of each of the Farm Bill’s titles including commodity, conservation, nutrition, trade, rural development, credit, research, energy, and crop insurance programs.

Trade
U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer appeared before the Senate Finance and House Ways and Means Committees in mid-June to discuss the Trump Administration’s trade priorities. USTR Lighthizer discussed a number of topics including the U.S. Mexico Canada Agreement (USMCA); ongoing discussions with China, Japan, and other nations; and U.S. participation in the World Trade Organization. With regard to the USMCA, Lighthizer committed in these hearings to work with Members of Congress to address enforcement, a topic of concern to many Democrats. The House Ways and Means Committee also held a June 25 hearing on Mexico’s recently enacted labor reforms that are directly tied to provisions of the USMCA agreement. A timeline for Congressional action on the USMCA is uncertain; at this point action is not likely to take place until at least September.

Agriculture committees
The House Agriculture Committee held a hearing on June 11 to review the state of U.S. agricultural products in international markets. USDA Under Secretary for Trade and Foreign Agriculture Ted McKinney and USTR Chief Agricultural Negotiator Gregg Doud testified. Doud and McKinney also testified alongside USDA Chief Economist Robert Johansson at a June 13 Senate Agriculture Committee hearing entitled “Certainty in Global Markets for the US Agriculture Sector.”

The House Agriculture Subcommittee on Forestry and Conversation held a June 25 hearing entitled “Managing for Soil Health: Securing the Conservation and Economic Benefits of Healthy Soils.” Witnesses representing the National Corn Growers Association, the Practical Farmers of Iowa, the National Association of Conservation Districts, the California Farm Bureau Federation, and the National Grazing Lands Coalition provided their perspectives on healthy soil practices.

The House Agriculture Committee has scheduled hearings on rural broadband issues (July 11), the state of U.S. livestock and poultry economies (July 16), and the effectiveness of the National Organic Program (July 17).