Washington Insider - Monday

Possible Government Shutdown Over Immigration

Here’s a quick monitor of Washington farm and trade policy issues from DTN’s well-placed observer.

WTO Members Split Over EU Proposal on Transparency

World Trade Organization (WTO) members continue to feud over a European Union (EU) proposal to increase regulatory transparency and reduce hurdles for small and medium-size enterprises (SMEs).

Several developing countries said the EU was too broad, burdensome, and duplicated WTO's work in other negotiating committees during a Nov. 1 meeting of WTO's negotiating group on market access. The EU said its proposal, which seeks to clarify rules regarding sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) measures and technical barriers to trade (TBT), is not onerous and would not infringe on members’ domestic rights. U.S. trade officials emphasized that WTO members will not reach a consensus on the proposal in time for the organization's December 10-13 ministerial conference in Argentina.

US Fiscal 2017 Ag Imports Hit New Record

U.S. agricultural exports for Fiscal 2017 totaled $140.47 billion while imports totaled a record $119.14 billion, both figures exceeding forecasts and resulting in a trade surplus of $21.33 billion, smaller than was forecast in August, according to USDA's U.S. Agriculture Trade Data Update.

In August, USDA forecast U.S. agricultural exports at $139.8 billion with imports forecast at $116.2 billion for a forecast trade surplus of $23.6 billion.

U.S. agricultural exports in September totaled $10.55 billion against imports of $9.36 billion for a surplus of $1.19 billion. That compares to August exports valued at $10.21 billion against imports of $9.92 billion that resulted in just a $287 million trade surplus. U.S. agricultural imports were the smallest in September since they were at $8.87 billion in September 2016 while exports were valued at the highest level since May when they were $10.67 billion.

Washington Insider: Possible Government Shutdown Over Immigration

Well, as if we didn’t have enough to fight about over taxes, The Hill is reporting this week that lawmakers are gearing up for an end-of-year battle over a key Obama-era immigration program, raising the chances of a government shutdown.

Senate Republicans and President Trump agreed during a closed-door White House meeting last Thursday that they would oppose addressing the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program as part of the December funding legislation. However, that position is unacceptable to Democrats and their immigration allies who want Congress to pass a legislative fix before going home for Christmas, The Hill says.

The fight over undocumented immigrants brought into the country as children is emerging as the potential trigger to a government shutdown fight after current funding expires Dec. 8. Democrats believe they have leverage to demand an immigration deal going into the end-of-year negotiations because GOP leadership will likely need their votes to keep the government open.

They are signaling, despite the decision from the president, that they will keep DACA in the December talks until Republicans show they can pass a spending bill on their own.

“Unless Republicans can keep the government open without Democratic votes, this is not their decision to make. I have yet to see any evidence that they will be able to do that,” said Rep. Joe Crowley, D-N.Y., the chairman of the House Democratic Caucus.

House Republicans, because they’re in the majority, can pass a government funding bill without House Democrats if they can hold together most of the caucus — an uphill battle, given the chamber’s unwieldy conservative factions. But, with a 60-vote procedural hurdle in the Senate, Republicans will need the support of at least eight Democrats to pass a funding bill — and they will likely need even more help if they can’t win over GOP senators who perennially vote “no” on spending bills.

“We are going to do everything we can to get it done, no matter what the President says on one given day or another,” Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said after the White House meeting.

"We have to find a way to get this done before the end of the year," Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., the No. 2 Senate Democrat, separately told reporters. "[This] limits the opportunities."

Trump decided earlier this year that he would phase out DACA, which allows undocumented immigrants brought into the country as children to work and go to school without fear of deportation. The program will end on March 5 making several hundred thousand immigrants at risk of being deported.

Democrats, under pressure from activists, outside groups and progressives to get legislation cleared this year, say they view a government-funding bill as their best, and potentially only, shot.

"This is how we are going to frame it: If you vote for the omnibus, you are voting for the deportation of Dreamers," said Frank Sharry, executive director of America's Voice, a powerful pro-immigrant advocacy group.

“We’ve got to do it [in December]. This is the moment; this is the time,” said Rep. Luis Gutiérrez, D-Ill., agreed.

Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., became the first Senate Democrat to announce that she wouldn’t support a government funding deal without an agreement on DACA.

But in the wake of the decision by Republicans to punt DACA until next year, Sens. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., who, like Harris, are considered contenders for the party's 2020 nomination, are drawing a similar red line.

“Let me be clear: If Trump doesn’t keep his word and Congress doesn’t pass a clean Dream Act, I won’t vote for a spending bill without it,” Warren said.

The brinksmanship comes after a move by Trump, Schumer and Pelosi to work on an immigration agreement unraveled. After the President told Democratic leaders he would trade a DACA fix for border security measures, the White House released a seven-page list of immigration “priorities” for legislation. Democrats dismissed the demands out of hand.

Further complicating a potential agreement, Trump doubled down this week on requiring a guarantee of funding for the U.S.-Mexico border wall, considered a nonstarter for Democrats and some Republicans, as part of any agreement.

And, not every GOP lawmaker is on board with their party’s DACA strategy or confident that it will work. Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., who is retiring at the end of the Congress, is pushing to move a DACA deal this year, and centrist Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., another retiring member, wants a vote on the DREAM Act.

Lawmakers have little time to find a solution to the funding fight, as the rest of November is expected to be consumed by the GOP effort to pass tax legislation. In addition, Republicans, who have struggled to score legislative or political victories, are also under pressure from conservatives to take a hard line as part of the DACA negotiations, adding an extra hurdle to getting a deal quickly and avoiding a shutdown.

So, we will see. Almost every issue now has enormous, even increasing amounts of baggage that makes even the simplest legislative effort a bitter battle. Thus, the looming budget fight is fast becoming a fight producers should watch closely as it emerges, Washington Insider believes.

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