Washington Insider - Friday

Confusion Over Southern Border Wall

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

USDA's GMO Labeling Plan at OMB

The proposed rule for the National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard made its way to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) December 26. The rule would require GMO ingredients in food products to be disclosed via a label, on-package symbol or an electronic label.

The plan is to be finalized by July 29. Typically, rules are under review at OMB for a 90-day or 120-day period, but at times take longer.

South Korea Steps Up Bird Flu Measures

Quarantine measures against avian influenza are being intensified by South Korea's Ministry of Agriculture after a case was found in Gyeonggi Province in the northern part of the country. This has raised concerns as prior cases have been found in the southwest portion of the country.

The country imposed a 48-hour ban on poultry movement in the northern part of the country due to the finding. The H5N6 strain was confirmed at a laying hen farm Poncheon, 28 miles north of Seoul, and resulted in the cull of 197,000 chickens.

Washington Insider: Confusion Over Southern Border Wall

The Hill reported Thursday that, according to Senate negotiators, a lack of clarity from the President about his plans for a proposed wall along the U.S.-Mexico border is holding up talks to avoid a government shutdown.

The administration has demanded tougher immigration controls and more border-security measures in return for relief for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program recipients in the 2018 spending bill.

But Republicans and Democrats working on a possible immigration deal said Wednesday they're still waiting to receive Trump's specific demands for tighter border security to hash out a deal.

Republicans are now saying that a deal to fund the government might have to move separately from a bill that provides a DACA fix and tightens border security.

Democrats, however, say they extracted a concession from GOP leaders and senior administration officials Wednesday afternoon to keep the spending and immigration talks linked as part of the same bargain.

The biggest question is whether the administration will insist on building a 2,200-mile wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, as the President indicated in a recent interview with The New York Times, or whether he’ll settle for increased patrols and surveillance.

“That’s something we’re waiting on the White House to give us clarity on,” said Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., one of the negotiators. “When you talk to [the Department of Homeland Security] and the other individuals, they talk about technology, they talk about personnel, they talk about physical barriers. “The president has just said, ‘I call it wall.’ Everything is ‘wall.’ But I don’t think he really means 30-foot high wall for 2,000 miles,” Lankford added.

Trump indicated in an impromptu interview with The New York Times last week that he would insist on a border wall in exchange for granting legal status to immigrants covered under the DACA program. “I wouldn’t do a DACA plan without a wall. Because we need it. We see the drugs pouring into the country, we need the wall,” Trump told Michael Schmidt of The Times.

The president appears in his public pronouncements to be calling for a 2,200-mile solid structure while senior administration officials talk about the wall as more of a metaphor for tighter security.

“There will be wall components, not a 2,200-mile wall,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., one of the negotiators, said before the Christmas break.

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., one of the Democrats working on a prospective immigration deal, said the reason Trump hasn’t wanted to put his proposal for a border wall on paper is because it would appear unfeasible and draw opposition from fellow Republicans.

“It has been almost three months since we asked the administration to provide us with a specific border security proposal. Still, I haven’t seen it,” Durbin said.

“What do you think ‘the wall’ means? Nobody knows. When they’re forced to put it on paper they have a problem. It’s too expensive and it is controversial and there are parts of it that Republicans don’t like so they’re afraid to write it down. But they’re holding us up.”

Now some senior Republicans are floating the possibility that the 2018 spending deal will move separately from immigration legislation.

Government funding runs out on Jan. 19 and Congress has until March 5 to come up with a solution to protect Dreamers from deportation.

Senate Republican Conference Chairman John Thune, R-S.D., said Wednesday that he doesn’t think the spending package will include the immigration legislation.

“I think that can be handled separately,” he said. “On this one you’ve got health care extenders, tax extenders, you have disaster, you have a lot of moving parts,” referring to various provisions to extend expiring tax breaks, subsidize insurance companies, authorize intelligence surveillance and provide disaster relief funding that will be added to the fiscal year 2018 spending bill.

Thune said a prospective deal on Dreamers and border security probably won’t be done in time to add to the spending bill. “I don’t think they’re anywhere close. That’s not ripe yet,” he said of a possible immigration deal.

But Democrats are pushing back hard on the notion that the omnibus spending package will move without a deal on immigration.

A Democratic leadership aide said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., agreed in a Wednesday afternoon meeting that the fate of Dreamers will be part of the broader talks on spending.

“The four leaders and White House officials agreed to keep negotiating a bipartisan budget agreement to lift the defense and non-defense caps, a DACA and border agreement, a health care package, as well as a disaster aid bill,” the aide said.

So, confusion continues to deepens over the spending deal. Right now, there are a lot of assurances that the Congress will keep the government open, but there is a lot of uncertainty as well. This is a fight producers need to watch carefully as it proceeds, Washington Insider believes.

Want to keep up with events in Washington and elsewhere throughout the day? See DTN Top Stories, our frequently updated summary of news developments of interest to producers. You can find DTN Top Stories in DTN Ag News, which is on the Main Menu on classic DTN products and on the News and Analysis Menu of DTN’s Professional and Producer products. DTN Top Stories is also on the home page and news home page of online.dtn.com. Subscribers of MyDTN.com should check out the US Ag Policy, US Farm Bill and DTN Ag News sections on their News Homepage.

If you have questions for DTN Washington Insider, please email edit@dtn.com