Washington Insider -- Monday

War on Poverty Seen as a Success

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

House Likely To Vote on Farm Bill Conference Next Week: Conaway.

A vote on a motion to proceed to conference on the farm bill is expected next week in the House, according to House Agriculture Chairman Mike Conaway, R-Texas. “It’s my understanding that the speaker will trigger that motion next week,” Conaway told reporters, referring to House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis.

Conaway said is currently working on the list of conferees and is “putting together all the committees that might have jurisdictional linkage to the deal.”

Conaway said he's anticipating that Democrats will offer at least one motion to instruct conferees to consider a particular position as negotiations get underway. Ag Committee Ranking Member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., is aiming to make that non-binding suggestion be the establishment of baseline funding for a vaccine disease bank at USDA.

Conaway and Peterson met Wednesday for the first time in eight weeks, according to Peterson. Peterson indicated to reporters that the face-to-face got heated. "I was not easy on him, and I told him bluntly what I think, which I always do,” he said. “He didn't like it, but I said I'm just telling what I think and I'm trying to be helpful... We get this thing into conference next week and if people become sensible it won't take long to do this,” Peterson said.

A top Democratic farm senator said the House bill includes food stamp work requirements the Senate won’t accept. Senate Agriculture Ranking Member Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., said Thursday she wants the House to understand current law and that there are already work requirements in place for recipients of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps. “They want more older people to work, they want more moms with smaller children to work, and that is a disagreement the Senate has,” she said.

EPA granted 49 RFS exemptions for 2016, 2017 to small refiners

EPA said it has granted 49 exemptions from Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) for small refiners, according to a letter sent by EPA to Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa. The pace was about double the 10-12 annual exemptions typically granted by the Obama administration.

Under departed EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, EPA granted 20 exemptions for the 2016 compliance year representing 790 billion Renewable Identification Numbers (RINs) in blending, and it denied one. The agency granted 29 exemptions for the 2017 compliance year, and it is considering four more, according to the letter.

The letter said the agency has received no applications for 2018.

EPA would not reveal the names of companies getting the exemptions, saying that information is confidential, though reports have indicated that Andeavor and HollyFrontier have received them.

“The idea that disclosing to Congress the names of waiver recipients somehow reveals confidential business information doesn’t make any sense and isn’t acceptable,” Grassley said in a statement. “Providing Congress with the names of recipients wouldn’t reveal any details about their operations or finances. It’s a necessary first step to making sure the law is being followed."

Grassley said he looks forward to meeting with acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler to discuss this and other RFS issues.


Washington Insider: War on Poverty Seen as Success

A new feature in the toxic economic policy wars appeared last week—in the form of a new Republican claim for success in the U.S. war on poverty. The Washington Post reported that while Republicans have for years “proclaimed the federal government’s decades-old War on Poverty was a failure now they are arguing that it succeeded,” a claim that is attracting considerable attention.

The new White House report argues that few Americans are truly poor now — only about 3% of the population — and that the booming economy is the best path upward for those who remain in poverty.

“Over the past 54 years since President Lyndon B. Johnson’s declaration of a War on Poverty, federal spending on welfare programs targeting low-income households has grown dramatically, contributing to a substantial reduction in material hardship,” the White House Council of Economic Advisers wrote, saying that poverty had fallen by 90% since the programs began.

The Post notes that the report is the latest in a string of Trump administration efforts to argue that poverty is a sharply diminishing problem in the United States.

Still, it calls the new conclusion surprising and cites earlier comments from well-placed observers. “We argued over dollar figures and whether people had to work or not. We never argued over the fact we had a problem,” said Jane Calderwood, who served as chief of staff to Olympia Snowe when the Maine Republican was in Congress. “I can’t remember Republicans ever saying, ‘We’ve defeated poverty and can just move on now.’”

The new conclusion comes amid White House and Republican efforts to pursue long-held goals of adding work requirements for recipients of food stamps, Medicaid and housing subsidies. At a time of low unemployment and high job vacancies, able-bodied enrollees in federal assistance programs can best escape poverty by getting jobs, Republicans say.

Skeptics abound and assert that White House officials and other Republicans are massively understating the scope of American poverty—and that the new work requirements will hurt the most vulnerable beneficiaries of social programs.

The Post notes that estimates of American poverty numbers vary widely and that estimates frequently rely on very different criteria. The most recent census data say that in 2016, 12.7 percent of Americans — about 41 million people — were in poverty compared with 19% in 1964. A separate census measure, known as the “supplemental” poverty rate, takes into account federal assistance flowing to households as well as regional differences in cost of living. By that measure, about 14% of Americans are in poverty.

Rather than measuring household resources, conservative scholars prefer to use “consumption” statistics that rely on surveys of how much people report spending. The spending measure for poverty is closer to the 3% figure Trump’s economic council used, said Robert Rector, a research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank. Poverty measured by consumption has fallen dramatically since the 1990s, while data from the Census Bureau show poverty remaining relatively flat.

Some moderate Republicans see the Trump administration’s new message as a welcome nod to the role that social programs have played in reducing poverty, as well as a concession to the realities of governing.

“When you really have to govern, you’re much more willing to recognize that some efforts on the part of government have been successful,” said Robert Doar, a scholar at the conservative-leaning American Enterprise Institute who was a commissioner for social service agencies under New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. “It’s different than the previous rhetoric that says all government efforts to reduce poverty have been a failure, and I think it’s closer to reality and more sensible.”

Still, critics are skeptical of the new rhetoric and remain opposed to Republicans’ plans for addressing it, the Post said.

Anti-poverty advocates cite the lack of health insurance for more than 25 million Americans as evidence that far more people suffer from material deprivation.

Later that month, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson proposed tripling rent for the poorest households that receive federal housing subsidies and making it easier for local housing authorities and Section 8 property owners to impose work requirements, among a number of sweeping changes.

The Trump administration has already for the first time approved new work requirements for Medicaid in four states — Arkansas, New Hampshire, Indiana and Kentucky — although Kentucky’s proposal was rejected by a judge last month. Seven other states also have asked the administration for permission to impose work requirements.

The House of Representatives in June narrowly passed a farm bill that includes additional work requirements for the food stamp program, which is used by 42 million Americans. But the provisions, which require most adults to work part-time or enroll in job training as a condition of receiving benefits, are widely seen as standing little chance of passing the Senate in a compromise bill.

So, it will be important to see what impact, if any, the new poverty evaluation has on the farm bill debate, especially as the House-Senate conference attempts to reconcile the very different nutrition program authorities the two versions include. Some Democrats argue that tighter regulations for these programs would kill the bill—and expect that they will at least mean a tougher fight, a debate that producers should watch closely as it emerges, Washington Insider believes.

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