Washington Insider -- Thursday

Calming Shutdown Worries

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

Meat Group Calls US-Japan Talks 'Imperative' For Sector

Getting U.S. meat producers access for pork and beef to the Japanese market that is at least as beneficial as the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) is "imperative" for the U.S. meat industry, according to comments on the coming US-Japan trade talks provided to the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) by the North American Meat Institute (NAMI).

An FTA between the U.S. and Japan "stands to be a boon for the US meat, poultry and animal products industry and will be integral to future growth," Westman wrote, adding, "Based on the analyses outlined in this letter and competitive market situation we face in Japan, it is imperative that the U.S.-Japan Trade Agreement negotiations be completed as soon as possible."

That is a minimum expectation, the group said, as it wants to see safeguard provisions ended in the Japanese market. The group also wants to see sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) provisions in the WTO to be reconfirmed in the upcoming talks.

The discussions get underway next year with Japan starting from a position of wanting to keep agriculture shielded in the talks.

Pressure on Lawmakers to Thwart Move of ERS, NIFA Continues

Pressure continues to escalate on ag appropriators over USDA's plan to relocate the Economic Research Service (ERS) and National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) with another letter sent by a group ag education leaders and scientists.

"We write from the perspective of current and former university agricultural administration leaders and former USDA chief scientists," the group said, adding, "Our positions in land grant universities (LGUs) as well as our broader experience and leadership in food and agriculture provide us a unique and important perspective on the US food and agriculture enterprise."

The proposed relocation of ERS and NIFA outside of the Washington, DC region, and realignment of ERS out of the USDA Research, Education, and Economics (REE) mission area "will undermine our food and agriculture enterprise by disrupting and hampering the agencies’ vital work in support of it," they wrote. The group also took issue with the pace of the proposed changes, questioning why "such a major upheaval of the USDA research arm would be carried out with such haste and without the input and prior consultation of the USDA research stakeholders."

Given those concerns, they asked that ag appropriators "intervene to stop the restructuring of REE at least until there has been a comprehensive independent study and full consultation with the stakeholder community."

Washington Insider: Calming Shutdown Worries

Toxic end-of-year politics are the primary focus now as the fight over the proposed border intensifies and the G-20 meeting in Argentina gets under way. The Hill is reporting this week that Senate Republican leaders are working to calm their rank-and-file members that a partial government shutdown in early December will be avoided, acknowledging that failing to do so would be a political liability for the GOP.

For example, Republican senators warned Vice President Mike Pence at a lunch meeting Tuesday that “a shutdown, even a partial one, would be a mistake.”

“I think that message was pretty clearly conveyed,” said Senate Republican Conference Chairman John Thune of South Dakota. “We don’t see anything good coming out of a shutdown.”

That’s because there’s a growing sense within the GOP that they will get blamed for any shutdown over border security, The Hill said.

Congress must pass legislation funding about 25 percent of the government by Dec. 7 to avoid shuttering a variety of federal agencies. “We’re doing everything we can to get this bill done,” Thune said, adding that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., “believes shutdowns are in nobody’s interest.”

Still, many Congress watchers are nervous, given the brief partial shutdown earlier this year after McConnell said there wouldn’t be one.

As recently as Tuesday afternoon, House Republican leaders went to the White House to see what options President Trump “might be willing to accept.” After the meeting, they said the president was firm about wanting $5 billion for border security, which is substantially less than the $25 billion estimated cost to build a wall along the 1,900-mile border with Mexico.

“President Trump’s been very adamant that we need to get the $5 billion for border security, and that’s something that we’re very committed to following through on,” House Majority Whip Steve Scalise R-La., told reporters after the meeting.

House leaders are also feeling pressure from conservatives in their conference, The Hill said.

Rep. Jim Jordan R-Ohio, a prominent member of the House Freedom Caucus, warned Tuesday there would be a backlash from the GOP base if Congress comes up short on funding border security.

“That was the biggest promise Republicans made to voters in 2016, so we had better fight for that, we had better put that on the Dec. 7 funding bill,” he said.

In addition, there are reports that Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby R-Ala., who has been in direct contact with Trump, is sounding optimistic in private conversations about reaching a deal.

Shelby has proposed $5 billion for the border wall over a two-year period. “I would hope that we can reach our goal to fund the government,” he said. “We’ve made some overtures. We’re not there yet. We think there’s a good chance we’ll make the deadline, but it hasn’t crystalized yet.”

Trump had previously told lawmakers that he won’t accept any year-end spending package that increases border security funding by less than $5 billion.

At the same time, some Republicans are pushing for a compromise that would increase money for border security in exchange for legislation protecting from deportation immigrants who came to the country illegally as children.

Thune and Sen. Rob Portman R-Ohio, have a bill that would establish a trust fund for border security and also codify protections for immigrants who entered the country illegally as children.

Separately, Senate Republican Whip John Cornyn of Texas has talked to Rep. Will Hurd R-Texas, about the possibility of adding to the year-end spending package a bipartisan measure that would increase border security through enhanced technology and manpower and protect DACA recipients from deportation.

Republican lawmakers say they expect that the president won’t get a wall along the US-Mexico border but believe that Democrats will go along with increased spending for border security.

Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer D-N.Y., on Tuesday said that Democrats don’t want to spend more than the $1.6 billion already negotiated in the Senate’s Homeland Security appropriations bill.

Schumer noted that the administration hasn’t “spent a penny of the $1.3 billion they requested in last year’s budget” for border security.

Democrats have also called for adding legislation to the year-end spending package that would protect special counsel Robert Mueller from being fired without just cause.

Cornyn told reporters Tuesday that he is checking with colleagues to see if it has enough support to pass, but also suggested “that doesn’t mean it will be put on the floor for a vote or added to the spending deal.”

However, Majority leader McConnell later called the Mueller legislation “irrelevant” and a “solution in search of a problem.” He said he would “probably” block any effort to bring a Mueller protection bill to the Senate floor.

Clearly, there are numerous highly important issues swirling now, all at the same time the administration is involved in important trade talks with China and others. Each of these is important and should be watched very closely as they proceed, Washington Insider believes.

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