Washington Insider-- Friday

Congress Avoids Government Shutdown

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

Crawfish Duty Disbursements Must Speed Up: Rep. Boustany

Crawfish duty disbursements worth "well over $100 million" owed to U.S. producers hurt by Chinese imports must be provided faster, Rep. Charles Boustany, R-La., told US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) commissioner Gil Kerlikowske at a hearing of the House Ways and Means Trade Subcommittee.

By failing to pay domestic industry the interest collected on unpaid duties for Chinese crawfish imports, CBP has run afoul of the law, Boustany said. "I'm not going to let up until this abuse is corrected," he added.

Under the Continued Dumping and Subsidy Offset Act of 2000, also known as the Byrd Amendment, funds collected from dumping and countervailing duties may be disbursed to affected domestic producers.

The statute was repealed in 2006 after an unfavorable World Trade Organization (WTO) ruling, but U.S. companies can still receive duties imposed before October 1, 2007. Under Section 605 of the Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act of 2015, affected domestic producers must also be paid interest accrued on such funds.

According to a May Federal Register notice, there are 28 U.S. companies eligible to receive money from the Chinese crawfish duties.

Boustany cited "slow enforcement from CBP, and unjustifiable delays from the insurance companies that post these [customs] bonds," as impeding the disbursement process, adding "these collections are still under way and are going painfully slow." Also, CBP is not paying out the interest owed under Section 605, he said.

US Consumption of Beef and Pork Projected to Rise Through 2025

USDA projections show that production of beef and pork will expand steadily between 2016 and 2025 and result in lower prices, which in turn is expected to increase per capita consumption of both meats, according to the Economic Research Service (ERS).

As a result of greater production, beef prices are projected to drop 10.6% and pork prices are projected to drop 11.6% between 2016 and 2025. Cheaper prices will help reverse a multiyear decline in meat consumption in the United States.

Per capita consumption of beef is also forecast to increase 2.7% by 2025, outpacing growth in consumption of broilers (2.3%) and pork (1.7%). USDA expects this will increase the total amount of meat consumed per person in the U.S. from 211 pounds in 2015 to nearly 219 pounds by 2025.

Washington Insider Congress Avoids Government Shutdown

Well, the big news as the end of September approaches is that the Congress finally agreed to keep the government open—for a few more days, through December 9. In reviewing the developments that led to the deal, news reports are highlighting the facts of just how complex the final negotiations were.

In fact, it took a flurry of last minute calls and meetings Tuesday before House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., reached a deal on federal aid for Flint, Michigan, which was the final major sticking point in negotiations, The Hill reported.

The Senate approved legislation keeping the government open on Wednesday afternoon, with the House approving separate legislation that includes money for Flint hours later. The House approved the stopgap measure Wednesday night, 342-85.

Speaker Ryan insisted that the resolution of the standoff was a "a low-drama moment" because "we've sort of taken the sting out of the room that we used to have," Ryan said, highlighting his outreach to Democrats as well as conservatives in his party.

The Hill, however, commented that the victory "wasn't the quick and easy one many had anticipated when lawmakers returned this month after a long summer recess."

In earlier conversations with Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell R-Ky., Pelosi had pressed the GOP leaders to include $220 million for Flint, the same provision approved as part of the Senate's water bill in the government-funding bill. Pelosi and Democrats saw it as the most certain vehicle for securing the Flint funding, which many Republicans deemed a local issue.

Ryan and McConnell repeatedly refused, arguing that the aid should be handled in the water bill. Instead, the Speaker offered to make "some sort of public commitment" to do Flint later, said an aide familiar with the negotiations. This time it was Pelosi who refused, demanding a more ironclad commitment to ensure Flint wasn't abandoned in the lame-duck session.

On Tuesday afternoon, Pelosi told the press that the Flint funding should be "legislated now." Shortly afterward, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., rallied all but four Democrats to block the Republicans' funding bill because it contained no money to address lead contamination in Flint.

Thus, the Senate faced a somewhat unexpected impasse and it was unclear what McConnell would do next. He threatened to pull a separate amendment providing $500 million to flood victims in Louisiana, West Virginia and Maryland. Democrats objected, but Reid's move handed Pelosi more leverage in the fight, The Hill says.

Bipartisan negotiations in the House quickly kicked into high gear. Pelosi and Ryan twice discussed a Flint amendment on the water bill on Tuesday although an earlier Rules Committee decision was that a similar amendment was not "germane" to the water bill, so the amendment needed to be restructured as an authorization rather than an appropriation. Pelosi also reached out to McConnell, who agreed to talk to the Speaker about taking concrete action on the floor yet this week, aides said.

After numerous meetings and extensive horse trading, Ryan and leadership staffers negotiated the wording of a bipartisan amendment that authorized $170 million for Flint. The Rules panel approved the amendment shortly before midnight, and it was successfully attached to the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA), which cleared the House on Wednesday.

In addition, in her conversations with McConnell, Pelosi also requested that he make a statement on the Senate floor emphasizing his strong commitment to keeping the Flint language in the final WRDA package, a promise he fulfilled Wednesday morning, saying he's "extremely serious" about "ensuring that Flint funding remains in the final bill."

The bipartisan agreement was finalized for a simple reason, The Hill says; it allowed all sides to take a victory lap. Democrats had already won several victories in the funding fight last week when GOP leaders agreed to abandon a provision barring Planned Parenthood from receiving new funds to combat the spread of the Zika virus and another blocking the Obama administration from transferring control of internet domain monitoring to an international body.

On top of that, Democrats secured the Flint money they'd demanded, while keeping Congress, especially vulnerable Republican incumbents, in Washington much longer than GOP leaders had hoped to stay.

GOP leaders were able to appease conservatives by keeping Flint off the funding bill while also averting a shutdown. Republicans also secured a priority provision preventing the Securities and Exchange Commission from requiring corporations to disclose more political donations.

"It took some good work, and I think we've got a good package," House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers, R-Ky., told The Hill.

It is true that avoiding a government shutdown is progress, but it also is true that the "regular order" concerning spending bills remains in shambles, especially since the fight will resume so very soon. In the meantime, the nation's attention will shift once more to the election in hopes of clarifying some of the key priorities that have become "too toxic to discuss" in recent weeks, Washington Insider believes.

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