Washington Insider -- Tuesday

Washington Insider Impacts of Government Shutdowns Evaluated

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

US Withdrawal From Mexico Tomato Suspension Agreement Praised

U.S. withdrawal of a trade agreement with Mexico on fresh tomatoes has won support from a key U.S. farm group and potentially adds a new component to the approval of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada (USMCA) agreement.

The U.S. last week gave Mexico 90-days' notice of the intent to withdraw from the 2013 accord, effective May 7. Under the agreement, the U.S. had agreed to suspend antidumping proceedings in exchange for minimum prices for fresh tomatoes imported from Mexico.

The decision to withdraw was lauded by the American Farm Bureau Federation. "The renewed anti-dumping investigation against Mexican fresh tomato imports is a necessary action," said Farm Bureau President Zippy Duvall. "Despite a previous accord that banned artificially low prices, Mexican producers have found ways to exploit the agreement and increase their market share."

Backing open and fair trade, Duval noted North American agricultural trade is "an enormous boon for the United States, Mexico and Canada." However, he said "the United States must take action when that trade ceases to be fair."

The withdrawal comes as USMCA ratification is still pending in all three countries. The new hard line could be a bid to demonstrate the Trump administration's commitment to enforce trade deals. Congress must approve USMCA before it can take effect, and some lawmakers have expressed concerns about how strictly new provisions of the agreement will be enforced -- especially those concerning labor and the environment.

House Ag Committee Agenda -- Farm Bill, RFS & Oversight Top Priorities

A large part of the agenda for the House Agriculture Committee in the 116th Congress will be oversight of USDA's implementation of the 2018 Farm Bill. The committee will also need to examine other key issues for the business of U.S. agriculture.

The bipartisanship theme was once again conveyed by committee Chairman Collin Peterson, D-Minn., as he welcomed new and returning members to the panel. "We have a tradition here of being bipartisan that I want to continue and I'm going to work hard to make sure that that happens," he said shortly after gaveling the meeting to order.

With the 2018 Farm Bill now enacted, "We have a great opportunity to make sure that the farm bill that we passed gets implemented in a law and as fast as we can and the way that we intended it to be implemented," Peterson said. He acknowledged that with the volume of new members it will take time to get everyone up to speed noting "ag committee stuff is complicated," and added "we're going to use the subcommittees to try to help" move that education process along.

As a tough economic situation across the ag sector continues, quickly implementing the new farm bill will prove key, Peterson said. He was optimistic the legislation's new dairy policy provisions will be "very helpful" and said it is essential USDA implements them soon "before we lose any more of our farmers." The fact the farm bill's new Dairy Margin Coverage (DMC) program will be retroactive to the first of the year is a big positive, he added.

As for other topics, the panel outlined those in a release from Peterson after the initial organizational session. The panel will monitor "the ongoing evolution of the (Renewable Fuel Standard) RFS," conservation and energy programs that help farmers cope with climate change and the ability of the Forest Service to respond to "the evolving threat of wildfires."

Tue. Feb. 12 Washington Insider Impacts of Government Shutdowns Evaluated

There is little confidence in Washington that a second government shutdown will be avoided. That is a problem, the Washington Post says, because the "mere threat of another shutdown may mean lasting damage to the federal workforce."

For federal workers, the intervening weeks between the end of the longest partial government shutdown in US history and the looming Feb. 15 deadline for funding the government might seem like a temporary reprieve. They're at work, their paychecks are back on track and they're busy catching up on work that went unfinished during the 35-day furlough.

However, the Post points to research by "management experts" that shows that the threat of imminent uncertainty at work "can be just as fraught to workers as the event itself."

"Psychologically, they're exactly the same thing—the threat of the event happening and the actual event happening," said Anthony Wheeler, a management professor at West Chester University in Pennsylvania, who has studied workers who have undergone the traumas of furloughs as well as the threat of a layoff.

So, the Post thinks, the barrage of media coverage, tweets from President Trump, communication from their bosses and chatter about the pending deadline surrounding the State of the Union address can make the threat feel increasingly real. In the President's speech Tuesday night, it came up again: "Congress has 10 days left to pass a bill that will fund our government, protect our homeland, and secure our very dangerous southern border."

Wheeler cites research results that found similarities between furloughs and layoffs. "We as humans have this bucket of resources," he said, such as our levels of optimism or feeling of control. "So whether it's a merger or a furlough, it's called the threat of loss. People are fearful of losing their resources."

It can also prompt an organization's best people to leave. In studies of state workers before and after a furlough and nurses before and after a hospital system merger (which brought with it a threat of layoffs), the announcement of the event had as strong of an impact on the best-performing employees' intention to leave -- or their actual departures -- as the event itself, Wheeler said.

"What we found is high performers who perceive they have job options are going to leave, and they are going to leave quickly," he said.

Workplace stress doesn't always end with the furlough or layoff.

Lisa Baranik, a management professor at the University at Albany in New York, found that the negative effects of a 16-day shutdown in 2013 lingered among employees for up to five weeks after it ended.

"Furloughs are about much more than financial stress," Baranik said. "Employees gain a lot of intangible benefits from the workplace like talking to friends, engaging in interesting projects and getting support from their supervisors."

When that's taken away, they also lose a lot of the positive effects of work, such as optimism or a sense of achievement, and those take time to build back. And that five-week recovery timeline happened in a shutdown that was less than half the length of the one that just ended, suggesting this one could take longer.

Some argue that differences in motivation among federal workers to work in public service make it trickier to compare it to private-sector layoffs. The government workforce, said Max Stier, president of the nonpartisan Partnership for Public Service, "is unique in that the value proposition for federal employees is in the mission."

Others argue that historically, federal employees have been somewhat accustomed to shutdowns. Jonathon Halbesleben, a management professor at the University of Alabama, said in an email that as he's talked to people about new research possibilities, that comparing current events to layoffs in the past would not be equal.

But that may not be the case in the last shutdown.

"I think most would agree that this past shutdown and the threat of the upcoming shutdown is a very different psychological experience," he said. "I imagine the current shutdown experience for federal workers is a lot closer to layoffs in the private sector then has been the case in the past."

David Ballard, assistant executive director for organizational excellence at the American Psychological Association, said long-standing research has shown that unpredictability and instability that increases stress levels on the job -- whether that be a furlough, a layoff or mere scheduling irregularities -- spill over into a worker's home life, affecting both personal well-being and performance on the job.

"The common thread there is those things increase work stress," Ballard said. "We have to realize that just because people came back to work, the stress is not over. You can't be fully on at work because that's weighing on you."

So the question is how will these events effect workers in areas that touch agriculture. It is true that the shutdown has been increasingly unpopular, both among government workers and the general public and that the threat of a repeat -- and perhaps over the debt ceiling in a few more days -- promises to raise anxieties even further. These are fights producers should watch 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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