WASHINGTON, D.C., U.S. — Members of the U.S. Congress returned to Washington, D.C., U.S., last week after a two-week spring recess and quickly began work on a number of priorities, said the National Association of Wheat Growers (NAWG), including the following:

The 2012 budget and overall debt reduction matters are top of mind in Congress, with tough decisions needing to be made in the short and long terms and the looming need to increase the federal government’s debt limit.

The “Gang of Six”, which includes senators from both parties, has had some negotiations this week on a debt deal, which would dramatically affect the coming fiscal year’s budget process.

Meanwhile, Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad, a member of the Gang of Six, said this week he expects to consider a budget resolution in his committee next week. The House has already passed its budget resolution for the 2012 fiscal year, and the House subcommittee charged with considering agriculture appropriations could look at a bill sometime this month.

Also this week, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner said the deadline to increase the debt ceiling can be pushed as far as Aug. 2, a number of months later than what he had previously predicted.

The need to raise the amount of money the federal government can borrow — which is necessary to avoid defaulting on debt obligations — is very politically volatile and has been seen as overshadowing ongoing negotiations.

Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow announced the rescheduled date for the committee’s first 2012 Farm Bill field hearing.

The session is set for May 31, at Michigan State University in East Lansing, Michigan, U.S. It will focus on policies throughout the bill that affect the chairwoman’s state, with witnesses to be announced at a later date.

The hearing was originally scheduled for April 9, but was delayed due to budget discussions.

Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers held a briefing to help educate other congressional offices about the important work of U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS).

Speakers included Dr. Caird Rexroad, ARS associate administrator for operations; Dr. Kay Simmons, ARS deputy administrator for crop production and protection and a long-time wheat worker; Mike Miller, a member of the Washington Grain Commission; and Dana Herron, a past chairman of the Washington Grain Commission.

About 25 Congressional staff members attended the hour-long meeting, which focused on the importance of ARS work to every congressional district.

Specifically, the Washington growers talked about the impact research has had on their abilities to farm profitably and feed the world with their products.

In meetings held this week, NAWG officers and staff pressed the importance of Senate legislation to remove new and duplicative Clean Water Act permitting requirements for pesticide applications.

The issue emerged following a January 2009 court ruling, the effect of which is that agricultural producers seeking to control plant pests, urban public health officials seeking to control disease-spreading mosquitoes and others would have to apply for a Clean Water Act permit to apply a product already regulated and permitted under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) – spending tens of millions of dollars without adding any environmental benefit.

The House passed a bill, H.R. 872, to address the issue in March by a 292 to 130. The House bill amends FIFRA to state that no additional permitting is needed for applications done in compliance with that law.

A companion bill has been introduced in the Senate, and NAWG and other agriculture groups are pushing for its passage well before the latest court stay of the decision requiring the new permits expires on Oct. 31.