Washington Insider -- Friday

Capitol Hill's Summer Agenda

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

Senate Farm Bill Work Tentatively Seen Week Of June 6

Senate Agriculture Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., said he wants to introduce the Senate farm bill as soon as June 6 and expects it to go from committee to the Senate floor in short order.

"We have a target date of June 6, and that could be a moving target, so we can get the bill out and have everybody discuss it and hopefully have it on the floor [the] next week," Roberts said during an appearance at an event in Manhattan, Kansas, with colleague Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., and USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue.

That could mean the bill would come to the Senate floor the week of June 12, noting it has a "clear path" as Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., promised him he would not file cloture on the bill, which would delay consideration.

As for details of the bill, they remain unclear. But Roberts said the legislation will “fix the ARC program to some degree,” referring to the Agriculture Risk Coverage (ARC) program that triggers payments to commodity farmers when the average crop revenue in their county drops below a guaranteed level.

But he was critical of a plan pushed by some – likely the plan by Sens. John Thune, R-S.D., and Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio – that would benefit one region of the country over another. "That does not cut it with me," Roberts stated. "Look guys, we either hang together or hang separately." He pledged no commodity will be hurt by the Senate package.

Roberts also pushed back against a mandatory base update that some are pushing for, saying that would cost Kansas more than 300,000 acres of base and Texas about one million base acres. The base update was reportedly being pushed by some soybean industry lobbyists.

USDA's Perdue Predicts TPP Could Come Back Into Focus

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement could return as an option for the Trump administration, according to USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue.

While the attention is on bilaterals, Perdue predicted that it is "only a matter of time" before TPP is revisited. "I am optimistic that when we get some early wins...the president can be persuaded at that point" to revisit TPP, he told an audience in Kansas.

"I think we can persuade that that can be the most effective trading tool that we can use against China."

But Perdue still said his goal is simple: "I just want to sell stuff, and I would be happy to do so either way," a reference to either bilateral trade deals or the multilateral approach.

Washington Insider: Capitol Hill's Summer Agenda

The White House announced new tariffs on steel and aluminum from Canada, Mexico and the European Union (EU) earlier this week, sharply increasing trade and economic policy uncertainty just ahead of the fall elections. At the same time, House and Senate Republican leaders are getting ready to ramp up work on spending, farm, and infrastructure bills, Bloomberg is reporting this week.

House Speaker Paul Ryan R-Wis., and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell R-Ky., also announced plans to swiftly bring to the floor the first of this year’s batch of appropriations bills as part of a strategy to avoid a showdown over federal spending just as voters are tuning in on the election.

While the administration’s trade decisions are likely to cause at least some disruptions of plans and schedules, the first three-bill “minibus” – bundling the Military Construction-Veterans, Energy-Water and Legislative Branch measures – is set to hit the House floor when lawmakers return next week. And McConnell has promised to bring a “bundled” bill up in the Senate later in the month.

Leaders of both chambers also want to make time for a reauthorization of the Water Resources Development Act, which Bloomberg says would let incumbents brag to voters about voting for the water-project portion of the infrastructure investment promoted by President Trump.

They’ll also need to schedule action on a renewal of the National Flood Insurance Program before it expires July 31, just as the hurricane season starts anew.

Beyond that, there is considerable uncertainty about the summer work periods—including what legislation will make the cut, and whether the leaders will buckle to a “coequal branch” of government by giving in to Trump on trimming the August recess, as well as possible fights over trade issues, Bloomberg said.

Speaker Ryan is regrouping after his chamber rejected a bill to reauthorize farm programs and food stamps at a 10-year cost of $867 billion. While Democrats opposed expanded work requirements for the program some Republicans also withheld support in an effort to force action to toughen immigration enforcement.

The House subsequently agreed to a plan to vote this month on a to-be-determined plan for addressing undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children, and then reconsider the farm bill in late June, likely on June 22.

Republicans are trying to “find where the consensus sweet spot is” on immigration, Ryan said.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby, R., Ala., is the only chairman who so far has won Majority Leader McConnell’s public commitment to have a bill on the floor in June. “We’re actually getting close to a process that both sides will be comfortable with in the future,” McConnell said at the panel’s first markup.

Other chairmen are still jockeying for a place in line for their bills.

“We’re all trying to get on the calendar and right now we just don’t know how it’s going to play out,” said Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., chairman of the Republican Conference. Thune and other lawmakers said there’s pressure to bring the Senate’s version of the farm bill to the floor as soon as possible.

So, we will see. It seems clear that the political environment in Washington is as toxic as ever—and, these bills include numerous explosive issues — and the proximity of the fall elections increases the stakes enormously. These clearly are debates producers should watch very closely as they emerge, 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.

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