Washington Insider -- Thursday

The Border Fight Continues

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

Perdue Consulting With Congress On Proposed ERS And NIFA Move

USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue said he will sound out Congress before moving ahead with the relocation of the Economic Research Service (ERS) and the National Institute for Food and Agriculture (NIFA).

Perdue told reporters Tuesday that he will also provide lawmakers with a "very serious cost-benefit analysis" justifying the move of the two agencies from the nation's capital. "Many of them have had concerns about what prompted" the relocation plan, Perdue said.

Perdue revealed he would have a revised list of the potential relocation sites "very soon."

USDA Eying Farm Program Signup Ahead

The USDA will move as quickly as they can when it comes to implementing the 2018 Farm Bill, with USDA Deputy Secretary Steve Censky saying signup is still going to be several weeks away.

"I will be able to tell you more in a couple of weeks," Censky at a Farm Foundation event in Washington. "We are going to be moving just as quickly and prudently as we can to implement it."

Top priorities for action, he said, include the new dairy subsidy, which took effect on January 1, updating provisions in the Ag Risk Coverage and Price Loss Coverage programs and trade promotion efforts.

Washington Insider The Border Fight Continues

The State of the Union speech went about as expected Tuesday night and most of the previous uncertainties are still uncertain. Still, there are earnest declarations that the president's demands will not intrude in the Congressional negotiations, in spite of his pressure for Congressional support.

For example, Bloomberg says this week that the "White House has taken a hands-off approach on spending talks -- and that key lawmakers negotiating a Homeland Security spending agreement weren't shaken by President Trump's demands for a border wall in his State of the Union address" although it is just 10 days before the deadline to fund portions of the government."

The White House has agreed to leave negotiations in lawmakers' hands, rather than making difficult demands during the discussions, Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., and Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, said after the speech. "While Trump's rhetoric was demanding, it won't likely have an effect on negotiations."

Cuellar said he spoke to "somebody in the White House" before the speech who led him to believe the White House will likely support a compromise funding deal measure from the conference committee. He declined to say who in the White House called him, saying it was "somebody who knows."

In the presidential speech, Trump highlighted crime at the border and pushed for a wall, saying "walls work and walls save lives."

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D., Calif., criticized him in a statement for "fear-mongering and manufacturing a crisis at the border."

The rhetoric on the wall was unsurprising and the mention of compromise was encouraging, Capito said. "We know he wants a wall, a barrier and along with a whole lot of other things," Capito said. "So he was stating the obvious and he was saying 'you all should be able to figure this out.'"

Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard Shelby, R-Ala., also downplayed Trump's call for wall funding, saying it didn't change the dynamic of the conference committee.

Cuellar said Democrats will consider supporting funds for a barrier, but they have called for a greater emphasis on surveillance technology.

"Are we going to have some sort of enhanced barrier? You know, I think there's ways that we can look at this," Cuellar said. "But it's not going to be the wall that the president keeps talking about."

Members of the conference committee planned to meet Wednesday morning to hear from Customs and Border Protection officials in a closed-door gathering, although Democrats on the panel didn't voice much enthusiasm for the meeting, saying they've already gotten testimony from administration officials.

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., a member of the conference committee and the Senate Appropriations Committee vice chairman, said he's talked "extensively" with Border Patrol officers.

Republicans are continuing to push for physical barriers along the border, providing funding for new structures rather than just to replace old fencing, Bloomberg said. New fencing must be part of a final agreement, Capito emphasized. The details of an agreement could preclude the construction of the kind of "border wall" that Trump campaigned on in 2016.

"We're working to see how we get that and what kind of terminology we use," Capito said.

Rep. Kay Granger, R-Texas, a conferee who led a trip to the border in Texas and California, said officials need 200 to 300 miles of fencing, though much of it would be replacement fencing. They need a steel structure like the roughly 650 miles of fencing that already exist, not something based on a new prototype, she said.

"I would call it a fence," Granger told reporters.

Lawmakers still plan to come to an agreement to fund the Department of Homeland Security by the end of the day Friday, giving them a week to pass the measure through both chambers before the Feb. 15 deadline, Bloomberg said.

If negotiators can't agree to a measure by "early Monday," they may need another stopgap measure to extend the deadline, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said.

The tone of spending negotiations is "much improved," Shelby said yesterday. He said he had spoken to Vice President Mike Pence on Sunday and Pelosi on Monday.

There are numerous signs of compromise on the issue, and it is clear that there is very little enthusiasm for a second government shutdown this year. However, the President was adamant in his push for the wall on Tuesday, and seems to be completely dug into that position. This is certainly a fight producers should watch closely as it intensifies, 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