Washington Insider -- Tuesday

Shutdown Impacts Are Big Stories

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

Farm Bill Implementation Key as Peterson Takes Helm at House Ag

Farm bill implementation, trade aid and scrutiny of USDA's plan to relocate the Economic Research Service (ERS) and National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) are among the top priorities for the House Agriculture Committee under its new chairman, Collin Peterson, D-Minn.

Peterson returns to the top spot on the committee after Democrats regained control of the House in the November midterm elections. It will be his second stint as chairman having previously served in the role from 2007 to 2011, and he had served as ranking member since.

For the committee, there "is no shortage of work to be done," Peterson said in a statement. "There is a new farm bill to implement, a growing economic storm in farm country to address, and the ongoing harm of a trade war to alleviate, not to mention the range of unforeseen issues that will test the mettle of the people we’re here to serve."

On trade, the committee is expected to review the impacts retaliatory tariffs by China and others are having on the US ag sector. USDA announced a trade aid plan for farmers meant to mitigate those duties, but already there are calls to extend the program beyond the initial $12 billion aid package currently underway. Peterson's call to look at ways to "alleviate" trade war impacts is a clear signal he intends to pursue the topic further as chairman.

Federal Judge Agrees To Limit Evidence In Glyphosate Cancer Trials

Bayer-owned Monsanto has received a major boost in its bid to fend off hundreds of federal lawsuits that allege the company failed to warn consumers about the cancer risks from its glyphosate-based weed killers.

The California federal judge overseeing some 620 complaints brought by cancer victims granted Bayer's request to split an upcoming bellwether trial into two parts, a move that will restrict the evidence the plaintiffs' attorneys can use to try and convince the jury that the company attempted to influence regulators and sway public opinion about the cancer risks from the herbicides.

The first phase of the trial will focus on causation and consider whether the plaintiffs can prove that exposure to Monsanto's glyphosate-based herbicides caused them to develop Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma (NHL), a type of blood cancer. If the plaintiffs can show causation, the trial will move to a second phase to address "all remaining liability and damage issues," U.S. District Judge Vince Chhabria explained in his Jan. 3 order.

The order applies to the first of three bellwether cases. That trial is set to begin on Feb. 25.

Chhabria noted that although his decision to bifurcate the trial is "unusual and should be done with caution … it is warranted here."

Washington Insider: Shutdown Impacts Are Big Stories

The Washington Post and other media outlets focused heavily on the partial government shutdown this week. Among other views, the Post looks at the impact on towns like Ogden, Utah, where it says the “streets of Ogden are quiet these days. Parking lots are half-empty. Restaurant sales have dropped.”

The report says that the more than 4,000 federal employees who work for the Internal Revenue Service and U.S. Forest Service have been furloughed from their jobs in this outdoorsy haven.” The closing of federal offices has reverberated across the city of 87,000, where roughly a third of annual revenue comes from the sales tax.

The story focus is far away from the “behemoth federal office complexes in Washington,” and aims for family impacts on a work force dependent on government jobs. The Post emphasizes impacts on ordinary workers who are beginning to feel the pinch of one of the longest shutdowns in history, now at more than two weeks old.

Many of the affected federal workers, including 10,000 people in Utah, 6,200 in West Virginia and 5,500 in Alabama, have salaries far below the average $85,000 for government employees. But those paychecks drive local economies, and workers are starting to make tough choices about how to spend them. These include eating out less, limiting travel and shopping at food pantries instead of grocery stores. They are “creating a ripple effect through the neighborhoods and towns where they live,” the paper noted.

With President Trump predicting the shutdown could last months or even years, these towns are preparing for a long-term economic blow.

“The lunches that are missed and the shopping that is missed, people are staying at home, and that really hurts our small-business community,” said Tom Christopulos, director of community and economic development for Ogden. He expects the town will take a hit on its weekly sales tax revenue of $314,000, which could delay parks and roads projects.

Foot traffic along the historic 25th Street commercial corridor has dropped dramatically, the Post says, and so has sales at Marcy Rizzi’s bookstore two blocks from the James V. Hansen Federal Building.

The shutdown “definitely has an impact,” said Rizzi, owner of Booked on 25th, as she managed an empty store at lunchtime on Friday.

Other shopkeepers she knows are “more liberal leaning,” so they already had misgivings about the government under Trump, she said. But now that he is “willing to impact local, everyday citizens over a wall? You hear people [complaining] about that.”

Furloughed IRS employee Krystle Kirkpatrick, 31, said she and her family of four can scrape along on her partner’s machinist salary for a while but she’s already thinking about signing up to be a plasma donor to earn extra cash. That would bring in $200.

“It’s not okay with me for my job to be used as a bargaining chip when people on either side don’t get what they want and they can’t come to an agreement,” she said. “I just want to work.”

Some politicians whose constituencies include large numbers of unpaid federal workers have been measured in their comments about the shutdown. Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, has strongly supported Trump’s border wall proposal but has carefully weighed his words on the shutdown.

“I’m concerned about the financial challenges that many Utah families and businesses could face as federal workers start to miss paychecks. That’s especially true in Ogden, given the thousands of federal employees there who work for the IRS and the US Forest Service,” Romney told the Post. “I’m hopeful this will be resolved soon in a way that protects border security and reopens the government and that’s what I’ll be focused on with my colleagues as negotiations continue.”

About 2,200 workers at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., have been furloughed, the Post says, leaving nearby restaurants worried about the economic fallout. Workers are making plans to cut back on expenses, anticipating the budget crunch after the first direct deposit doesn’t arrive in the coming days.

Speaking on the Senate floor Thursday, Sen. Doug Jones, D-Ala., pointed to affected federal workers in his state as a reason to end the shutdown.

“We are not doing our job, and tens of thousands of our constituents are paying the price. More than 5,000 federal workers across Alabama were furloughed or worked unpaid through the holidays,” he said. “Vital Coast Guard employees, who are not paid under the Defense Department’s budget, don’t know if their next paycheck will come.”

But Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Ala. whose district includes Huntsville, has strongly supported Trump’s funding demands for the U.S.-Mexico border wall that triggered the shutdown, saying Democrats have “American blood” on their hands from people killed by undocumented immigrants.

Increasingly pointed questions are likely as the impacts of the policy spread, and as they affect increasing numbers of people — including producers who encounter supports that are restricted. This is a fight that producers should watch closely as it continues, 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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