Washington Insider -- Thursday

Congress Scrambling to Avoid Another Shutdown

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

Trump Said To Be Seeking Tariffs On Up To $60 Billion in Chinese Tech and Telecommunications Items

President Donald Trump is seeking to hit China with tariffs on up to $60 billion in products, targeting the technology and telecommunications sectors, according to multiple reports. The tariffs could apply to products outside those two areas and could touch around 100 products, according to Reuters.

House Ways & Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady, R-Texas, told reporters Trump was "serious" about "calling their hand on this," referring to China. "My understanding is they are looking at a broad array of options to do that," he noted. The expected action will further heighten worries in U.S. agriculture that their products could end up being hit by China with retaliatory action.

Farm Bill Details Not Likely To Come This Week from the House Ag Committee

House Agriculture Chairman Mike Conaway, R-Texas, will not likely release the draft of the new farm bill this week and may not even do so yet this month, according to contacts. Conaway is still trying to negotiate changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) provisions that will garner Democratic support.

Conaway said he was upbeat Tuesday after meeting with panel Ranking Member Collin Peterson, D-Minn. But Peterson is opposed to the GOP’s new work requirements for SNAP beneficiaries and his support will be needed to garner Democratic votes.

Washington Insider: Congress Scrambling to Avoid Another Shutdown

The Hill is reporting this week that Congress is scrambling to avoid its third government shutdown of the year as it faces a spending deadline next week.

Republicans had hoped to buy some extra time by having the House vote on a mammoth funding bill this week. That would have helped the Senate avoid even an hours-long shutdown like the one forced last month by Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky. But that timeline appears to be slipping amid a standoff on controversial policy riders.

Senators now predict the legislation will be filed by Friday — or as late as Sunday. Either day would drive Congress’s spending drama down to the wire. Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., the next chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said negotiators are winnowing down the number of “poison pills” — provisions suggested for inclusion in the package considered non-starters by either party.

Shelby said there were a “number of things” that still need to be resolved. But, one thing lawmakers are not haggling over is funding levels. The bipartisan budget caps deal reached in February settled the funding question, allowing spending to increase by $80 billion for defense and $63 billion for nondefense. The deal gave appropriators plenty of room to allocate funds.

Still, several Senators are not optimistic and raising the possibility that lawmakers could need the weekend to clear several remaining hurdles that are slowing down talks.

The delay complicates initial hopes by House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy R-Calif., and other lawmakers to vote on the legislation this week, though some members held out hope the omnibus would still come together before the weekend.

If the bill is released Friday, the House would not be able to vote on it until Monday without a rule change. McConnell will also need the consent of every senator — something that has eluded him in the past — to speed up votes and meet the midnight Friday deadline.

In January, Senate Democrats and a small band of Republicans blocked a weeks-long continuing resolution as they demanded a vote on a fix for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. In February, Sen. Paul forced a brief shutdown because he couldn’t get a vote on his amendment to cut government spending.

Now, the tough issues span an array of contentious political matters. “There are a lot of riders that Republicans want to put in, poison pills that need to be taken off,” said Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md. Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., the ranking member of the Appropriations Committee, had reportedly floated a solution: dropping all riders, whether Democratic or Republican, from the bill. However, Senator Shelby cast doubt on that approach.

“‘All’ is an all-inclusive thing,” he said, indicating that it might be tough to even negotiate which policies counted as poison pills, and which were agreed upon policy fixes.

One of the biggest poison pill controversies has swirled around abortion.

Democrats said the GOP was attempting to block funds from organizations such as Planned Parenthood and programs aimed at preventing teen pregnancy. They raised concerns that the administration might cut off Title X family-planning grant funds.

Senator Blunt hinted this week that they are making progress on that issue, saying talks are “headed in the right direction.” But other potential policy landmines remain before negotiators can lock down the bill.

The Trump administration warned last week that it could veto the bill if it includes money for the Gateway tunnel and is actively lobbying GOP leadership to leave it out.

But the project, which would rebuild passenger rail connections under the Hudson River between New York City and Newark, N.J., is a top priority for Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., and House Appropriations Committee Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-N.J. Schumer indicated on Tuesday that he still wants funding included in the omnibus, despite the administration’s threats.

And while Democrats have dropped their demand that a DACA fix be included in the bill, the President’s trip to examine prototypes of the U.S.-Mexico border wall have sparked concerns that the wall proposal could reemerge as a last-minute fight.

“I don’t know. I’m anxious to see what comes out of his visit,” said Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., predicting any digging in by Trump could make it more complicated for Democrats to support the bill.

Schumer previously offered to put $25 billion in border wall funding on the table as part of negotiations with Trump in January, but Democrats accused the president of walking away from the deal because of pressure from the right. Asked about funding earlier, Schumer called the wall “ineffectual and expensive” but said he wouldn’t negotiate in public.

So, we will see. Almost every issue has the potential to close the government these days, it seems—even an appropriations bill without real spending issues. This is yet another fight that producers should watch closely as it emerges, Washington Insider believes.

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