By Philip Brasher, Executive Editor Agri-Pulse
A Senate committee will take up the House-passed implementing bill for the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement this week amid a continuing impasse over whether the chamber will hold an impeachment trial for President Donald Trump.
The USMCA bill, which passed the House, 385-41, in December after the White House worked out an agreement with Mexico and House Democrats on labor and environmental issues, is certain to pass the Senate overwhelmingly as well, the only question is when.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said in December that floor action would have to wait until after an impeachment trial, but it’s not clear when or even if that will take place. McConnell has so far refused to agree to Democratic demands on rules for a trial.
The Senate Finance Committee has scheduled a meeting Tuesday morning to consider the implementing bill. A spokesman for McConnell said he couldn’t say when the full Senate would act on the measure. But White House trade adviser Peter Navarro said Sunday on Fox Business that the full Senate could take up the USMCA measure by the end of the week.
“Once it’s marked up (by the Finance Committee), Leader McConnell will then have the opportunity to put it on the floor, and the beauty of fast-track legislation is that it’s a maximum of 20 hours once it goes to the floor for the vote. It’s got a large bipartisan support in the Senate,” Navarro said.
The agreement has picked up the backing of a key Democrat in Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a leading presidential candidate who earlier released a set of proposals to restrict future trade negotiations on environmental, labor and consumer issues.
“Workers have had the legs taken out from underneath them and this agreement makes improvements,” Warren told Boston CBS affiliate WBZ on Friday.
“It’s gonna help open up some markets for farmers, they need that stability. It’s gonna help with enforceable labor standards and that’s gonna be useful. We really need trade negotiations going forward that make sure anyone who wants access to our markets is actually helping us in the fight against climate change and helping build an economy that works for everybody in the US.”
Her endorsement of USMCA allows her to differentiate herself from Sen. Bernie Sanders ahead of the Feb. 3 caucuses in Iowa that kick off the presidential primary voting.
“I want to see improvement for our farmers and workers. It’s not as much improvement as I’d like to see but right now they’re in a terrible hole where Donald Trump has put them. I want to get them out of that hole,” Warren said.
As lawmakers return from a two-week holiday break, the House will take up a bill this week to force the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate as hazardous substances a group of chemicals, known as PFAS, that have contaminated underground water supplies.
That bill, and a similar, bipartisan version pending in the Senate, would require EPA to designate some PFAS chemicals for regulation under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, or Superfund law, which would, in turn, trigger cleanup requirements.
The annual defense authorization measure and the fiscal 2020 appropriations bills for EPA and the Defense Department include provisions to accelerate PFAS cleanup, according to an analysis of the issue by the New York University law school.
A New Mexico dairy farmer has been especially outspoken in pushing for Congress and the Trump administration to address the issue.
Art Schaap, who farms along the Texas border near Cannon Air Force Base, said PFAS contamination made it impossible to sell milk from his 4,000-cow operation. Installing and maintaining filtration equipment on the farm’s 20 farms would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, he said.
Here is a list of agriculture- or rural-related events scheduled for this week in Washington and elsewhere:
Monday, Jan. 6
Tuesday, Jan. 7
9:30 a.m. – Senate Finance Committee meeting to consider the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement implementing bill, 215 Dirksen.
Wednesday, Jan. 8
10 a.m. – Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing, “The Nonpoint Source Management Program Under the Clean Water Act: Perspectives from States,” 406 Dirksen.
Thursday, Jan. 9
8:30 a.m. – USDA releases Weekly Export Sales report.
10 a.m. – House Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee hearing on the Water Resources Development Act, 2167 Rayburn.
10 a.m. – U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s 2020 State of American Business, webcast here.
Friday, Jan. 10
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