Washington Insider -- Thursday

President Trump and Democrats to Pursue Infrastructure Deal

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

Grassley, Others to Meet With Trump Today on Tariffs

Senate Finance Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and other lawmakers will meet with President Donald Trump at the White House to talk trade.

This comes as Grassley has become more pointed in his comments on tariffs imposed by the U.S. against Canada and Mexico over steel and aluminum shipments. Those duties prompted retaliatory actions by Canada and Mexico, including targets on U.S. ag products.

In a recent op-ed item, Grassley warned that the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) was likely "dead" without the tariffs being removed by the U.S. against Canada and Mexico. According to Grassley, Trump “has been very successful in the negotiations with Mexico and China,” and “is on the brink of a victory.”

Removing the tariffs would put pressure on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and the lower chamber, he noted. "If the president takes the first step, then it puts the burden back on” the House, he said. Grassley went on to say that tariffs imposed by Trump “affect...the agriculture of my state.”

EPA Said To Halt Work on Revealing More Info for Small Refiner Waivers

An EPA plan to reopen comments on a plan it put forth in 2016 to reveal more information on refiners relative to small refiner exemptions from Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) obligations has been put on hold, according to Reuters.

EPA announced April 12 it would reopen the comment period on making more information public but has not yet published the notice in the Federal Register. According to the report, the move has been put on hold as the White House and oil industry have pushed back on the effort, with some lawmakers also jumping into the fray, expressing concern that sensitive financial information could be made public as a result.

EPA announced in April that it would soon publish a notice in the Federal Register to reopen the comment period for an additional 15 days on its 2016 proposal to "specify that with respect to each decision on a small refinery/refiner exemption request, we would release to the public the petitioner’s name, the name and location of the facility for which relief was requested, the general nature of the relief requested, the time period for which relief was requested, and the extent to which EPA granted or denied the requested relief. EPA provided its rationale for such a determination."

Washington Insider: President Trump and Democrats to Pursue Infrastructure Deal

There was heavy press coverage as Democratic congressional leaders reported on a meeting at the White House this week. As the session broke up, participants told the press that President Donald Trump had agreed to pursue a $2 trillion infrastructure plan to upgrade the nation’s highways, railroads, bridges and broadband.

For example, the New York Times cited Senator Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., the minority leader, who said that there had been “good will” in the meeting and that it was “different than some of the other meetings that we’ve had.” He and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said the group planned to meet again in three weeks, when the President is expected to tell them how he plans to pay for the ambitious project.

Tensions were high during the “first substantive sit-down between the president and Democratic leadership since the 35-day government shutdown last winter,” the Times said. However, Sen. Schumer noted that the meeting demonstrated that the Congress could conduct oversight and pursue legislation at the same time. “In previous meetings, the president has said if these investigations (by House committees) continue, I can’t work with you,” Schumer said of the president.

“He didn’t bring it up. I believe we can do both at once,” Schumer added. “The two are not mutually exclusive, and we were glad he didn’t make it that way.”

“Infrastructure Week” has become a recurring trope of the Trump presidency. A $1 trillion infrastructure plan remains one of Trump’s unfulfilled promises from his 2016 campaign. The effort took a back seat to the administration’s failed attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act and then to its successful passage of a tax overhaul in 2017.

The original plan was also one that everyone rejected from the beginning — Trump even criticized public-private partnerships, which were key to the plan’s financing — and no new plan has been put forward since.

Still, Democrats went to the White House intent to “play along” as if there was a chance, the Times said, and that Pelosi requested the meeting in part to change the conversation from impeachment to infrastructure and to demonstrate that Democrats want to proceed with a policy agenda, and not merely with investigations of the president.

For the president, an infrastructure deal could provide him with a bipartisan achievement he could point to while campaigning.

“I would like to do something,” Trump told the group. “It may not be typically Republican.” The president made it clear that he had never supported the public-private partnership model to fund a bill that his aides, like Gary Cohn, his former top economic adviser, had pitched. “That was a Gary bill,” he said of his earlier attempt at an infrastructure bill. “That bill was so stupid.”

Tuesday’s 90-minute meeting took place behind closed doors and stayed broadly on topic. There was no discussion of hauling in the television cameras, according to a congressional aide.

Extending a peace offering of sorts, Trump at one point offered Pelosi a white Tic Tac, which she accepted. At another point, the president noted that he liked the $2 trillion figure because it sounded better than $1.9 trillion.

Still, the meeting with the president struck some as “out of step. We’re in the middle of a constitutional crisis here,” said Brian Fallon, a former aide to Schumer. "We have bigger fish to fry than trying to look like we gave it a shot on infrastructure.”

Speaking in Los Angeles on Tuesday, Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff, expressed his own skepticism about an infrastructure deal with Democrats. He said the two parties had major differences on the scope and timing of a plan and he questioned the intentions of Democrats.

He said he had advised the president that Republicans must push for environmental deregulation so new projects could get built within two years — and that under current regulations, a trillion dollars’ worth of spending “might not lead to new roads or bridges being built for 10 years.”

“I want to change the environmental laws, how do you feel about that as a Democrat?” Mulvaney said. “It’s going to be a very difficult place for them to go. I think that may be the place where the discussions break down.”

For Democrats, the strategy appeared to put the onus on Mr. Trump to deliver a real plan and to lock him into the enthusiasm he showed for it in their meeting.

“The key to the discussion, really, was the willingness of the president,” said Sen. Thomas Carper of Delaware, the top Democrat on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. “I have responsibility to lead on this front as well, and I’m prepared to do so.”

Clearly, there are broad gaps between the parties on infrastructure, like on most things. At the same time, the issue has broad bipartisan support and a break in the combat is likely to be warmly welcomed — although the yet-to-be-revealed funding scheme may well rekindle and even intensify infrastructure political war, Washington Insider believes.

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