Washington Insider -- Monday

Democrats Prepare Defense for Dreamers

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

US Ethanol Interests Seek Help From Trump Administration On Brazil Import Duties

U.S. ethanol producers will ask the Trump administration to intervene in a trade dispute with Brazil as tensions between the industry and foreign competitors continue to escalate.

The Renewable Fuels Association, Growth Energy and the U.S. Grains Council said in a statement Thursday the government should "take immediate action and consider all avenues to encourage Brazil" to revoke or at least ease the 20 percent tariff on ethanol imports from the U.S. it announced last month.

The groups are drafting a letter that they plan to send to USDA and the U.S. Trade Representative, requesting the agencies consider the tools that they have under World Trade Organization rules, Growth Energy Chief Executive Emily Skor said. More than $750 million in U.S. exports and jobs are at stake, the groups said.

How the Trump administration responds will be closely watched, given President Donald Trump has repeatedly voiced his support for the domestic ethanol sector both during the campaign and once in office. "My members are looking at how this president campaigned," Skor said. "Based off of that, there is a hope, and I would add, an expectation, that this government will do everything" it can to help. Last week, Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said the president had assured him that he is "pro-ethanol."

Commerce's Ross: NAFTA Withdrawal If 2.0 Talks Fail 'Right Thing' To Do

Withdrawing from the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) if the 2.0 talks do not produce a successful outcome would be the "right thing" to do, U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said Friday (September 8).

"The president has made clear that if they don't work, he's going to pull out ... and really, that's the right thing," Ross said at an event hosted by the Washington Post. "We need fixes to this deal. It has not worked the way that it was intended to."

Even though the 2.0 talks are in their early stages, Ross indicated the end of 2017 is still viewed as a deadline for the talks. The process cannot drag on "too long," Ross noted, given that elections in all three countries could become factors in the talks along with expiration of U.S. Trade Promotion Authority (TPA).

"As you get closer to all of those political dates, the ability to get anything done will go down," Ross observed. "So there's no fine line, magic tape, but more or less by the end of the year is probably where we're going to need to know where we are."

Washington Insider: Democrats Prepare Defense for Dreamers

Lest you think that the political tempest gauge has declined since the bipartisan deal on storm damage, Politico is reporting this week that House Democrats appear to be prepared to shut down the government in December unless Congress adopts protections for Dreamers.

Only hours after Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., voted for a three-month government funding deal, he suggested that top Democrats are prepared to take a stronger stand once that deal expires. Gutierrez had complained that Democratic leaders ceded leverage they could have used to help undocumented immigrants who came to the country as children, but then he promised, “we will shut it down or let Republicans keep it open with their own votes.” This after he and every other House Democrat had just voted for the funding package that also includes aid for Hurricane Harvey victims.

“The vast majority of members in the Democratic Caucus are ready to say, if there is no pathway forward” for Dreamers, “then there is no government for anyone," Gutierrez said.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., also agreed that “We cannot leave this session of Congress without passing the DREAM Act"-- a bipartisan proposal that offers Dreamers a pathway to citizenship. Pelosi says she believes “we can do this in September” and it’s her top priority. “Ninety Republicans refusing to vote for emergency Hurricane aid today gives us leverage and we plan to use it,” she said.

The disaster relief package lawmakers sent to the president Friday raises the debt limit and funds the government through Dec. 8, setting up another nasty fiscal fight just before the holidays. Democrats, who typically supply the necessary votes in such battles and therefore have significant leverage, say that they will use the showdown to pressure Republicans to support a legislative fix for Dreamers if needed.

The White House announced the end of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program earlier this week, but with a six-month delay to give lawmakers time to find a legislative solution.

Gutierrez has been the most outspoken opponent of the deal Democratic leaders struck with Trump, Politico said. He argues that Democrats gave up any leverage they had to get a legislative fix for Dreamers this month, and says that several other Democrats were privately fuming about the plan earlier this week.

Still, after a lengthy conversation with Pelosi on the floor Friday, he and every other Democrat supported the legislation. Gutiérrez later said his talk with Pelosi signaled to him that she would be open to withholding Democratic votes in December if the issue is not resolved.

The idea of flirting with a possible government shutdown, or at least forcing Republicans to come up with a majority of the votes to push for action on DACA isn’t new. House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., suggested at a private party caucus meeting earlier this week that Democrats withhold their votes for a short-term spending bill later this month unless Republicans would signal they were ready to deal on DACA. He received a standing ovation.

Hours later, Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer D-N.Y., announced they’d struck a deal with Trump to keep the government funded until Dec. 8. Pelosi later said Trump indicated to her that he’d be willing to sign some version of the DREAM Act, though he would also want some border tightening provisions as part of a deal.

Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., another of the party’s biggest proponents of the DREAM legislation, also indicated as much on Friday: The bill is unlikely to make it to Trump’s desk without addressing border security and other Republican priorities.

Assuming that “there’s some enforcement” attached to a bill helping Dreamers, Grijalva argued that she could not ‘comfortably tell you I couldn’t support that.” But at that crucible point, she expects the human issues involved will need to be considered.

Gutierrez and others are also looking to other options to win passage of the DREAM Act before government funding expires in December. Hoyer and Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chairwoman Michelle Lujan Grisham, D-N.M., kicked off one effort Thursday, relying on a complicated parliamentary procedure called a discharge petition that could force a vote on the bill in the coming weeks.

However, that move requires a majority of lawmakers to sign on first, meaning at least 24 Republicans would have to buck their leaders and back the Democratic-led effort. While not entirely impossible, discharge petitions are rarely successful for this reason.

Meanwhile, Senate Democratic leaders are signaling openness to negotiations with the GOP about a legislative framework that could secure a bipartisan vote on helping Dreamers. "I think what you’ll find, I know what you’ll find, is that starting next week there is going to be a more specific conversation," Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., a chief author of the DREAM Act, said Thursday. "We’re going to get into some ideas."

So, we will see. There are a number of agenda items that the administration will need at least some Democratic support to pass, and which could lead to some additional cooperation—or, more desperate confrontations. Most of these fights can be expected to continue—but, there is at least a glimmer of hope for more cooperation, Washington Insider believes.

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