3rd Quarter 2004

Washington Scene

Featured in each edition of Choices, the Washington Scene column is written largely by Washington policy makers, their staff, and agency analysts. This section focuses on current and emerging policy issues and legislation. In this quarter's edition, Washington insiders discuss what is happening with upcoming appropriations bills, dietary guidelines and obesity, and climate change.
A number of items of legislation are mentioned or alluded to herein. For more information or to track legislation, visit the Library of Congress Thomas site at http://thomas.loc.gov.

Congress worked hard to finish consideration of several important pieces of legislation before they adjourned earlier this month. The Jumpstart Our Business Strength (JOBS) bill, hurricane assistance, and agricultural disaster assistance were each finished in the last days before Congress adjourned for the current district work period. That being said, the legislative plate will remain full upon their return in November.

The main push on Capitol Hill when lawmakers return will be to finish the remaining Fiscal Year 2005 appropriations bills as soon as possible. With precious few completed before the end of the fiscal year, Congress will now try to work out the differences between the House and Senate versions of each bill. There remain several scenarios in play as to how these bills will be passed. An omnibus containing all the outstanding bills, several stand-alone bills and an omnibus, or two or more smaller omnibus packages are all viable options.

Obesity is also the subject of activity. Dietary Guidelines, jointly issued by the Departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services, are revised every five years; new Dietary Guidelines will be released in 2005. Like its predecessors, the new Dietary Guidelines will stress the importance of maintaining a healthy weight. The Department of Agriculture is reviewing the Food Guide Pyramid for consistency with Dietary Guidelines and with the new nutrient recommendations from the Institute of Medicine. Many perspectives on the issues of obesity are reflected in legislation before the 108th Congress. For example, some proposed legislation would encourage exercise by requiring communities and employers to provide facilities for employees to exercise. Other legislation would intervene through schools to improve diets and increase physical activity among children. Another focus of legislation has been thwarting lawsuits against food manufacturers and restaurants for claims of injury related to a person's weight gain. In addition, states might be required to cover drugs medically necessary to treat obesity. Whether information or legislation might alter individual diet and lifestyle choices is still, however, an open question.

Climate change and greenhouse gas emission issues are concerns on the Washington Scene. Important changes to greenhouse programs and proposals for greenhouse-gas-related legislation are under active consideration. In particular, the Department of Energy, with support from the USDA, is currently reviewing and revising guidelines for the 1605(b) program—its voluntary greenhouse-gas registry. Included in these guidelines are rules for reporting and registering emissions reductions and changes in carbon sequestration within the agriculture and forestry sectors. On the legislative side, bills have been placed before Congress that propose placing limits on national greenhouse gas emissions. For example, McCain-Lieberman is such a bill receiving current attention. There are also provisions in existing USDA conservation programs that are designed to promote use of practices yielding environmental benefits including greenhouse gas emission reductions. More information on 1605(b) can be found at http://www.eia.doe.gov/oiaf/1605/frntvrgg.html. More information on possible climate-related bills can be accessed at http://www.pewclimate.org/policy_center/congressional/. More information on the climate change context of conservation programs can be found at http://www.usda.gov/oce/gcpo/gcponews.htm.

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