Washington Insider - Tuesday

Looking Beyond Tax Reform

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

WTO Sets Date for DSB Meeting On US-Mexico Tuna Dispute

A special meeting of the World Trade Organization's (WTO) Dispute Settlement Body (DSB) to consider the adoption of the panel's findings in a dispute brought by Mexico challenging aspects of the U.S.' "dolphin safe" tuna labelling program, is set for December 4.

The report and associated findings were circulated to WTO members in late October. It overturned an earlier WTO ruling, which found Mexico had the right to impose tariffs on up to $163 million worth of U.S. exports, arguing that the U.S. labeling requirements for "dolphin safe" tuna unfairly discriminated against imports from Mexico. The October decision said changes made to the program by the U.S. Department of Commerce brought the U.S. into compliance its WTO obligations.

The Mexican government has said it intends to appeal the compliance panel's findings. If Mexico does appeal, the DSB meeting will be cancelled.

Argentina Approves GMO Soybeans Resistant To Chemicals Other Than Glyphosate

Argentina gave approval late last week to the use of soybean seed that is genetically modified to be resistant to herbicides other than glyphosate, taking up the matter at the request of Syngenta and Bayer.

The Argentine ag ministry said the seed approved needed different herbicides that have not raised health concerns. "This is of great importance given the rise of resistant weeds and other potential limitations to the use of the glyphosate herbicide," the ministry said. The action is seen as a potential nod to the ongoing debate in Europe over the re-approval of glyphosate

Washington Insider: Looking Beyond Tax Reform

POLITICO is reporting this week what everybody knows—that the White House and Capitol Hill are singularly focused on passing a tax reform bill. However, the group says that “almost no one seems to know where the administration will focus next.”

White House policy initiatives are typically planned months in advance, POLITICO says, with strategies for communications and Congressional reviews, and many other elements. But there is little agreement now between White House officials and Republican leaders on the Hill about what should follow tax reform.

POLITICO says it held conversations with nearly a dozen senior aides in the White House and on Capitol Hill and heard a range of possibilities from welfare reform to the infrastructure program the administration earlier promoted. However, it found what it calls a “looming vacuum” in the Republican agenda.

The group says that “former administration officials say the situation is virtually unprecedented, and that it is threatening the president’s future agenda.”

There are some things the administration needs to do no matter what, POLITICO notes. White House officials will have to work with Congress to get a budget passed in December, and there will have to be a politically explosive debate between now and March about passing a Republican version of the DACA program, which will likely include a showdown over the long-promised wall between Mexico and the United States.

The administration’s disorganization is in part a reflection of the president’s own indifference toward many policy issues, and its low priority for the long-term policy planning characteristic of previous administrations, POLITICO says.

Trump has never appointed a deputy chief of staff for policy solely responsible for developing a legislative strategy and coordinating the messaging around it, for example, although several White House aides have moonlighted in the position while attending to their formal duties. This included Steve Bannon with his handwritten “to do” list of priorities.

Chief of staff John Kelly, who replaced Priebus in July, has brought some order to the White House, but lacks a “deep background in policymaking,” and where domestic policy initiatives are concerned, domestic policy aides say they have felt fettered and complained of order without purpose, according to three people close to the president.

The current relatively weak domestic policy team has been overshadowed by Gary Cohn and his National Economic Council. Cohn, a government neophyte, has built out a staff capable of rivaling the Domestic Policy Council, which now “introduces a source of internal rivalry and instability. That's a key reason why Cohn has taken the lead on tax reform, for example, while domestic policy aides have taken a back seat.

This general disorganization may exact costs on the administration beyond depriving it of legislative victories. It may also make it harder for the White House to retain staff or to attract replacements as administration officials begin to leave next year.

POLITICO says that Senior White House officials did not dispute characterizations of the general confusion surrounding the sequencing of these legislative initiatives.

In the George W. Bush administration, the deputy chief of staff for policy role was held both by Josh Bolten, who went on to become the president’s chief of staff, and by Karl Rove, who served as the mastermind behind the timing and rollout of policy initiatives throughout his time in the White House.

During Bolten’s tenure, Bush administration officials recall weekly meetings in his West Wing office focused on a calendar he had pinned on his wall that folded out from the current month to reveal the four upcoming months.

“We thought about this stuff very carefully, we had detailed discussions about it,” said a former Bush administration official who participated in the conversations. “The timing of this stuff was carefully thought through, as was the messaging.”

Obama administration officials tell a similar story of balancing the president’s priorities with attention to the hard deadlines in Congress and the political mood of the country. “We had clear priority areas that we went into every year and that we refreshed at the six-month point,” said Cecilia Munoz, who served as the director of the Domestic Policy Council for five years during the Obama administration.

With the exception of immigration, Trump didn’t campaign on a detailed policy platform. In office, he has relied on Congress to hammer out the details of legislation and, at times, the order of policy pushes.

A more traditional White House would be guiding Congress much more, rather than vice versa.

But over the Thanksgiving weekend, the President gave hints that he’s still preoccupied with the victory that eluded him in his first months: health care. “Even though Dems want to Obstruct,” he tweeted on Thanksgiving Day, “we will Repeal & Replace right after Tax Cuts!”

Well, maybe so. However, in the meantime, there is widespread concern and more than a little anger among farm groups and others about the administration’s NAFTA efforts and the distribution of benefits among taxpayer groups in the House and Senate tax reform bills. These are attracting a great deal of criticism that may affect the outcome of each of these increasingly intense debates. And, increasingly, even sturdy defenders are wondering about strategies and priorities, fights producers should watch closely, especially as the farm bill debate approaches, Washington Insider believes.

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