Congress will face a number of key issues when it returns in early January. The farm bill, immigration, infrastructure, welfare reform and keeping the federal government funded will be some of the issues for the second session of the 115th Congress.
• Government funding — One of the first items Congress will need to address is how to fund the federal government for the rest of the fiscal year. The current continuing resolution expires on Jan. 19. The desire is to reach an agreement on the level of funding for defense and non-defense programs, and pass a bill to fund the government through Sept. 30, 2018. This may include raising the spending caps for both defense and domestic spending.
• Farm bill — The current farm bill expires on Sept. 30, 2018. The House and Senate Agriculture Committee’s leadership wants to complete the new farm bill early. Congressman Mike Conaway (R-TX), chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, would like to finish the bill in the first quarter of the year. This all depends upon when the House leadership will give the committee floor time for consideration of the bill and the level of funding the committee receives for the farm bill.
The Senate Agriculture Committee would like to finish committee action early next year. Some of the key issues will be overall funding, cotton, dairy, sugar, number of acres in the Conservation Reserve Program, crop insurance, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, funding level for trade programs — Foreign Market Development Program and Market Access Program — and establishment of a vaccine bank.
Farm bills are never easy to pass and this one will face numerous challenges. If it is to pass, there will need to be bipartisan support as has been the case since the first farm bill in the 1930s.
• Immigration — Congress plans to address the issue of minors who came to the United States with their parents illegally or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. This is an issue Democrat and Republican leaders have been negotiating and hope to have a compromise for Congress to consider early next year. It is expected the deal will allow DACAs to remain in the United States while at the same time provide funding for increased border security. Democrats are expected to demand the DACA issue be resolved before the continuing resolution expires on Jan. 19.
• Welfare reform — Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) has indicated one of his priorities it to pass welfare reform legislation. This would include Medicare, Medicaid and welfare programs.
Ryan says, “We are going to focus next year on people, on getting people from welfare to work, on making sure people get the skills they need to get the jobs they want and get the careers that get them the life they need.” This has the potential of becoming a very partisan issue in the House of Representatives because many Democrats believe this is to cut the programs to pay for the recent tax bill. Even if the House passes welfare legislation, the Senate is not expected to address the issue in 2018.
• Infrastructure — The White House plans to release its infrastructure plan in January. The plan is expected to cost $1 trillion, but no details have been released to indicate how it will be paid for. There has been a call by many industries and members of Congress for a major infrastructure bill that will cover highways, bridges, airports, locks and dams, etc. This is one area where there is the possibility of bipartisanship.
• State of the Union — President Trump will deliver his State of the Union address on Jan. 30 in which he will lay out his policies and legislative priorities.
Remember this is an election year and Congressional leaders will be focused on who will control the House of Representatives and Senate after the 2018 election.
FDA’s food-recall does not always ensure food safety
The Food and Drug Administration’s process to remove contaminated food from stores takes too long according to a report recently released by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service’s Office of Inspector General.
The report says that the FDA did not always have an “efficient and effective food-recall process that ensured the safety of the nation’s food supply.” The OIG report says “recalls were not always initiated promptly” because FDA does not have adequate procedures to make certain that companies take “prompt and effective action in initiating voluntary food recalls.”
Food companies took an average of 57 days to recall food items after the FDA had been informed of their potential danger. The FDA reviewed 30 of the 1,557 food recalls between 2012 and 2015.