Washington Insider -- Monday

President Trump Pushes for SNAP Work Requirements

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

Trump Officials Continue To Downplay Potential Tariff Impacts

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, warning in a Fox Business News interview Thursday that more pain was ahead on the trade front, continued to downplay the impact of the potential for 25% tariffs on $200 billion in Chinese goods.

A 25% levy “on $200 billion, if it comes to pass, is $50 billion a year,” Ross stated. “$50 billion a year on an $18 trillion economy” is a fraction of a percent, he said, noting “it is not something that is going to be cataclysmic." Ross signaled there’s more pain ahead unless China changes its economic system, as the Asian nation repeated it will never surrender to U.S. trade threats.

“We have to create a situation where it’s more painful for them to continue their bad practices than it is to reform,” Ross said in the interview. The U.S. will keep turning up the pressure on China for as long as the country refuses to level the economic playing field, said Ross.

US Agricultural Exports, Imports Fell in June Despite Soybean Rise

The value of U.S. agricultural exports slipped to $11.78 billion in June while imports fell even further to $10.31 billion, boosting the U.S. agricultural trade surplus to its highest level yet in calendar 2018 -- $1.47 billion.

The June data compared to U.S. ag exports valued at $12.26 billion and imports valued at $11.55 billion in May, for a trade surplus of $716 million.

Data from the U.S. Census Bureau released this morning indicated that U.S. soybean exports once again rose in value compared to the prior month, but that was not enough to produce another rise in the monthly export value.

As for imports, this marked the second smallest total yet in Fiscal Year (FY) 2019, but still marked a ninth straight month with imports valued at $10 billion or more. That's the first time that has happened based on USDA data going back to the mid-1970s.


Washington Insider: President Trump Pushes for SNAP Work Requirements

On Thursday, the President “jumped into the farm bill debate once again — this time on Twitter — in an effort to tip the scales toward House Republicans ahead of conference negotiations.”

"When the House and Senate meet on the very important Farm Bill - we love our farmers - hopefully they will be able to leave the WORK REQUIREMENTS FOR FOOD STAMPS PROVISION that the House approved," the president wrote.

In addition, the President again suggested that the Senate needs to eliminate its filibuster rule — an apparent recognition of the fact that new work requirements for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program would not attract the 60 votes needed to invoke cloture to overcome any filibuster on a bill that includes such requirements, which Democrats largely oppose.

However, POLITICO reviewed the math and found it worth noting that “it’s far from clear the GOP would have 51 votes for SNAP changes, even if you got around the 60 vote threshold.” This was underlined by a letter from Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, last week urging a rejection of the House SNAP work requirements calling them “completely unworkable” for her state.

To no one’s surprise, anti-hunger advocates were unimpressed with the president’s tweet, and said so. "Taking food from people who don’t meet a work requirement will hurt many people who are already working but in low-wage jobs with unsteady hours as well as people with serious health conditions who fail to overcome red tape and bureaucratic hurdles to qualify for an exemption,” said Stacy Dean, vice president for Food Assistance Policy at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. “Children, too, would be harmed because when parents lose SNAP benefits, they have fewer resources to feed their families.” Dean urged lawmakers to go with the Senate farm bill’s SNAP policy.

Still, the Foundation for Government Accountability, a hardline conservative welfare reform group, lauded Trump’s tweet, POLITICO said. “The president is right — the House’s improved food stamp work requirements should stay in the Farm Bill,” said Kristina Rasmussen, vice president for federal affairs at FGA. “There has never been a better time for welfare reform with today’s booming economy.”

Both the House and Senate passed their respective farm bills in June. However, the House bill imposes new work requirements on the food stamp program and tightens overall eligibility on who can qualify for the federal assistance.

Conservatives have seized on the work requirement provisions as key to a final version of the farm bill.

The House version would require all adults aged 18 to 59 to work at least 20 hours a week or be enrolled in a training program in order to receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits.

The work requirements are projected to cut SNAP enrollment by up to 1 million people and would decrease spending on SNAP by $20 billion over 10 years, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

GOP senators also tried, ultimately unsuccessfully, to add new work requirements when the Senate legislation was considered. With a 60-vote threshold in the Senate, Republicans need Democratic votes, and Democrats won’t support a bill with work requirements, key leaders have said. The measure, however, only got 30 votes, meaning at least 20 Republicans also opposed the measure.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has repeatedly said he won’t end the filibuster, despite pressure from the White House and conservatives to get rid of the higher vote threshold.

House Republicans have insisted they will fight for their version of the legislation, and Trump’s explicit support for work requirements could complicate an already fraught process when the two chambers formally meet in the fall to merge their respective bills.

The current farm bill expires Sept. 30.

So, we will see. The President’s “get tough” policy on trade appears to many to threaten valuable ag markets in North America and Asia, and possibly in Europe so the stakes are extremely high at the same time the administration’s negotiating objectives have been difficult to explain making trade an extremely fraught issue for the administration, one producers should watch closely as this fight intensifies this fall, Washington Insider believes.

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