Washington Insider -- Thursday

President Obama Jams for Trade

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

Senate Republicans Targeting WOTUS Again

Senate Republicans announced their intentions on policy issues they will seek to address via the appropriations process, specifically an appropriations subcommittee markup of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) funding bill. They pledged to include a host of policy riders that Democrats and the White House strongly oppose. That is already raising questions about the potential for the $33.1 billion yet to be unveiled Interior, Environment and related agencies funding measure.

The package would give the EPA $8.1 billion, $31.2 million below enacted levels, the Senate Appropriations Committee said in a bill summary. The Interior Department would be funded at $12.2 billion, including a $6 million increase for the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and a $11.9 million cut to the Fish and Wildlife Service. The legislation would decrease the budget for Interior's Office of Surface Mining (OSM) by $3.7 million.

The riders are important to Republicans, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, said in a statement announcing her intention to include several in the package. But Democrats expressed disappointment with the decision. "In many ways, I feel like its de´ja` vu all over again, and it's very frustrating," Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., said of the riders.

"Democrats have been clear; the White House has been clear," Udall warned. "We are not prepared to gut environmental law at the price of getting spending bills passed."

One policy rider would delay implementation of EPA's waters of the US (WOTUS) for one year, Murkowski said, and another would bar Superfund financial assurance rulemaking.

"On the regulatory side of the EPA budget, this bill makes cuts in areas where the EPA has clearly overstepped its bounds," Murkowski said. "Several program areas that have issued controversial rules that are currently blocked in court are reduced because I believe it is more important to provide resources to programs that yield tangible results in improving the environment instead of funding more lawyers and bureaucrats to draft rules of questionable legality and dubious environmental benefit."

USTR Pushes Back Against GI Protections for TTIP

Any optimism by European Union about getting geographical indication protections included in the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) trade talks was again dashed by US Trade Rep. Michael Froman as he said the US trademark system already provides meaningful protection for products.

The U.S. has taken Europe's requests on geographical indications "very seriously," Froman said at a National Council of Farmer Cooperatives conference, but he said the data show that EU farm products do “very well” in the U.S., while U.S. products are denied access to EU markets.

Ag exports to the EU were flat or declined in real terms over the last 15 years, while total U.S. ag exports reached hit a record of about $150 billion in 2014, Froman said.

The EU wants to extend geographical indication protections to various products in TTIP, but the U.S. relies on trademarks to protect names instead. The dispute revolves around a number of specific names that are protected in the EU as GIs, like parmesan cheese, but which the U.S. views as generic.

Any EU producer may apply for a trademark in the U.S., and the government will block any future conflicting trademark applications, Froman said. EU agricultural producers already hold 12,000 trademarks in the U.S., he added.

Froman said the U.S. and EU are working “basically around the clock” to try and reach agreement on TTIP this year.

Washington Insider: President Obama Jams for Trade

It seems that nothing is too far out in the midst of a highly intense political campaign. President Obama may not be running on any ticket this time around, but he is running for a number of things. Last week, Roll Call reported that the president used a “Tonight Show” slow jamming of the news bit to make yet another pitch for his trade deal with Pacific Rim countries, a pact many politicians view with skepticism.

The trade proposal’s prospects are politically uncertain since both the Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump oppose the Trans-Pacific Partnership, although it has considerable support from the Republican majority in Congress. But despite the tricky election-year politics, Roll Call said, “Obama continues making his case.”

In the segment, taped earlier in New York, “Tonight Show” host Jimmy Fallon rhythmically asked Obama if he is “down with TPP,” a reference to a rather risque 1990s rap song by the group Naughty By Nature.

“Yeah, you know me,” Obama replied.

“Look, Jimmy, the TPP allows American businesses to sell more goods at home and abroad,” Roll Call cited “the salesman in chief” as saying.

“The more we sell abroad, the more higher-paying jobs we provide here at home. It’s that simple.” Roll Call was skeptical, though. It commented that, “with both the House and Senate coming in for rare twin early Friday morning session that week... it’s questionable how many members and senators stayed up Thursday night to watch.”

Maybe not, but administration staffers probably did, and at least one had something to say about the proposal’s prospects. Bloomberg reported that U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman told the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives this week that the administration has made “great strides” in building support in Congress for the TPP. He also said he is getting a “very positive response” to the proposal in individual meetings with lawmakers as they learned more details.

He added, “I think that the main message at this point is the urgency of getting it done [this year],” rather than leaving it to the next administration, which could insist on renegotiating it or shelving it completely.

Froman also noted that the administration is preparing the implementing bill and other documents required for the legislative process, while working closely with congressional leaders to resolve outstanding issues.

And, administration officials also are working with leadership on when to submit legislation for consideration. “If TPP doesn't get done this year, it's unclear exactly when it might get done,” he told the NCFC group.

This is not a new theme for the president, although his rap presentation is unusual. Also, the issue is an important one, and especially difficult since approval for the proposal depends on bi-partisan support in an extremely tense political environment. The president has repeatedly called for a vote this year, but key lawmakers, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, say they still want improvements in several areas.

And, while USTR Froman sees encouraging support from Congress, the completion of the agreement this election year certainly will require both luck and political skill—and, thus continues to be a significantly long shot, Washington Insider believes.

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