Washington Insider -- Tuesday

Mayors Support Trade Pact Many Dems Oppose

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

ERS: Tillage Methods Vary Across United States

Tillage method usage varies across the U.S., with newer methods including strip-till and no-till methods being used on a substantial portion of U.S. cropland acres, according to the Economic Research Service (ERS).

Improved soil heath and reduced net greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are associated with newer tillage techniques, namely the strip-till and no-till methods. Between 2010 and 2011, around 23% of land used to grow corn, cotton, soybeans and wheat were located on farms where strip-till and/or no-till methods were used for all acres.

Farms where a mix of strip-till and no-till methods were used in conjunction with other more traditional tillage practices accounted for another 33% of corn, cotton, soybean and wheat acreage. Though, in the Prairie Gateway, Northern Great Plains and Heartland regions, which account for 72% of acreage of those crops nationwide, more than half of corn, cotton, soybean and wheat crop acreage was on farms that at least used strip-till and/or no-till methods on some of their cropland.


$2 Billion in Unused Transportation Funds

Congress has done such a poor job allocating money for roads and bridges that there may be about $2 billion worth of unused funds lying around that can now be used for other projects, according to Congressional Quarterly.

A little-noticed provision of the catchall spending bill approved in December gives state transportation departments unused funds that had been designated by members of Congress for old pet projects. Most of the earmarked money “just wasn’t able to move” because of funding constraints or a lack of adequate planning by state or local officials, said Joung Lee, policy director of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials.

An estimate last year by the Federal Highway Administration put the unused spending figure at about $2 billion. The new law applies to pet projects that are more than 10 years old in which less than 10% of the money had been spent.

Even after the money gets redistributed, there is no guarantee it will be used any more efficiently. Under rules imposed by the highway agency, money must remain in the state for which it was first designated and be used on a project within 50 miles of the original earmark.


Washington Insider: Mayors Support Trade Pact Many Dems Oppose

While election year politics has pushed trade out of the headlines recently, US Trade Representative Michael Froman plans to sign the TransPacific Partnership trade agreement with 11 other nations in New Zealand on Thursday. That will start a 30-day clock ticking after which President Barack Obama can formally submit a TPP implementing bill to Congress.

While the administration and Republicans are expected to work out their differences on key areas before the bill is actually submitted, it is expected to face significant opposition from Democrats in Congress.

At the same time, somewhat surprisingly strong support is coming from Democratic mayors, especially from larger cities, who are lining up in favor of the deal, arguing that it will create jobs and boost their regional economies, The Hill reported last week. “This is an opportunity to bring more economic and wage growth to our communities and the US economy as a whole,” Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, president of the US Conference of Mayors and Tom Cochran, the CEO and executive director of the group, told the press.

The mayors group, which represents cities with populations of at least 30,000 and who first endorsed the deal in 2012, said the TPP “will be a shot in the arm” for local economies that depend on exports.

This support from the Democratic mayors is notable given broad opposition to the deal within the Democratic Party, including the two top candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. This is a turnaround for Clinton who praised the deal while it was being negotiated, as Obama’s secretary of State.

As a result, the White House is emphasizing the mayors’ group as an indication of support from politicians on the left who believe it will help their communities. USTR Michael Froman credited more than 100 mayors with earlier help in pushing through trade promotion authority, a legislative tool widely seen as essential to move trade deals through Congress. Most Democrats in Congress voted against giving the President the authority.

“Now, with this historic TPP agreement in hand, your cities are closer than ever to realizing its benefits. Together, we can get it done,” Froman said. He also vowed that the administration would back them up with visits and help get their messages out about how the TPP affects some the nation’s largest cities.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio is a high-profile Democratic opponent, but many other big city mayors representing Democratic strongholds back the TPP. They include Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Obama’s former chief of staff, and Houston Mayor Annise Parker, the Hill reported.

During their winter meeting in Washington last week, the US Conference of Mayors adopted a compact calling on the presidential candidates “to join with us in supporting trade and export expansion through modern trade agreements, including the Trans Pacific Partnership.” Mayors see the benefits of increased trade “in real and concrete terms” and are willing “to step out and take an aggressive approach to build congressional support,” the group told The Hill.

In addition, The Hill noted that many of the mayors represent port cities, such as New Orleans, or agricultural strongholds that are expected to benefit most directly from additional trade.

Not every Democratic mayor is enamored with the agreement, of course, especially in the Rust Belt where manufacturing jobs have been lost to global competitors. For example, Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto, a Democrat, argues the TPP will hurt his city’s steel industry.

On the other side of the state, outgoing Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter has touted the deal and has been an outspoken advocate for the agreement, arguing the pact will benefit all of Pennsylvania. Also, Little Rock’s Stodola, who heads up the Conference of Mayors’ task force on ports and exports, last week called on Congress to approve the TPP deal.

Mayor Landrieu of New Orleans recently got a visit from Deputy U.S. Trade Representative Robert Holleyman to help sell the deal. “Expanded trade will strengthen our economy and ensure Louisiana’s position on a global stage,” Landrieu said during a roundtable discussion. “You would think that Congress could get this done, and they could get it done quick,” he said.

While the White House is optimistic about the outcome of the TPP approval debate, no one thinks it will be anything but a bitter fight, as trade battles tend to be these days. Now that the deal is about to be signed, it will move more into the open where it should be watched carefully by producers as it proceeds, Washington Insider believes.

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