Ag Week: Riders Unlikely in Stopgap Spending Bill

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By Casey Wooten

Dec. 2 — Congress has one big job to do before jetting off for Christmas break: pass a continuing resolution funding the government well into next year.

The deadline is Dec. 9, and lawmakers are deep in talks to move a stopgap measure and pass on the tough spending questions until President-elect Donald Trump takes office in January.

By kicking the can down the road yet again, Congress is likely to leave behind a host of agriculture-related initiatives Republicans hoped to accomplish through regular appropriations bills. Republican leaders have said that they want to pass as clean of a continuing resolution as possible, meaning one free of tacked-on provisions known as riders.

Here is a rundown of the main policy riders in the House and Senate agricultural appropriations bills that may have to wait until the next Congress:

Menu labeling: The House and Senate bills would delay implementation until mid-2018 of Food and Drug Administration rules that would require pizza chains, movie theaters and restaurants with more than 20 locations to label their menus with calorie information.

The final rules, which were released this year and are set to take effect in mid-2017, mark a long effort to push out menu-labeling regulations mandated by the 2010 Affordable Care Act.• Livestock, sodium: The House agriculture appropriations bill would eliminate a rule finalized by the Agriculture Department that would rework contracts between livestock producers and the processors they sell to.

The House bill also would prevent the Food and Drug Administration from issuing guidelines on reducing sodium intake until the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or the National Academy of Medicine completes a dietary reference intake study on salt consumption.• Grocery stocking: The Senate agriculture spending bill contains language that would bar the USDA from finalizing a rule expanding the types of foods retailers participating in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program must offer.

Convenience stores have opposed the USDA’s new stocking rule, saying the requirements to offer produce and other items would force them to drop participation in the nutrition program.

Trump’s USDA Pick

Trump has yet to name who will head the Agriculture Department when he takes office, and based on who has been coming in and out of Trump Tower, it may be a while before he announces the next agriculture secretary.

A few of those on the short list have paid a visit to Trump’s New York City offices. One of them, Sid Miller, the current Texas Agriculture Commissioner, told a west Texas radio station Nov. 29 that he was being considered for the spot, but said not to expect an announcement for “probably 10 days to two weeks.”

Another possible pick, Chuck Conner, president and CEO of the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives, spoke with reporters Nov. 30 but declined to say whether he had been offered the job.

Rep. Tim Huelskamp, who was defeated earlier this year in Kansas’s 1st District Republican primary, has also said he was in the running for the spot.

Other potential nominees include former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue (R), who met with Trump in New York Nov. 30, and current Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback (R).

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) met with the president-elect as well, on Dec. 2 in New York, raising the possibility that Trump could reach across the aisle for the top USDA job.

Heitkamp, who is up for re-election in 2018, hasn’t generated as much buzz as the other potential nominees. However, she does sit on the Agriculture Committee, bolstering her credentials.

To contact the reporter on this story: Casey Wooten in Washington at cwooten@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Paul Hendrie at phendrie@bna.com

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