Washington Insider-- Thursday

Tracer Army Mobilized

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

House Ag Chairman Peterson Supports Boost In CCC Borrowing, But Wants Conditions

Raising the Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC) borrowing authority to $68 billion from a current $30 billion each fiscal year is supported by House Ag Committee Chairman Collin Peterson, D-Minn., but he wants conditions on any such increase.

The American Farm Bureau Federation has advocated boosting CCC authority to $68 billion, a level which reflects what the level should be if it were adjusted for inflation.

Among conditions he wants, Peterson told reporters he wants any CCC spending to be signed off by the leaders of the House and Senate Ag panels.

"Going forward, it would not be like it was in the past," he said. “The CCC and the appropriators have become the farm bill; they are doing farm policy and they are not the experts on farm policy,” he said. “It should not be that way. If the farm bill is going to be kind of an afterthought, which is what it is at this point, then we might as well abolish the Ag committee.”

Legislation to Boost Ethanol Use Offered

Legislation to provide funding to build out additional ethanol infrastructure has been offered in the US House of Representatives.

The Clean Fuels Deployment Act of 2020 was introduced Tuesday by Rep. Abby Finkenauer, D-Iowa., and would authorize funding for installing and converting fuel pump infrastructure to deliver higher blends of ethanol and biodiesel.

The Department of Transportation (DOT) would set up a grant program for eligible entities that will be used cover costs related to the deployment of fueling infrastructure; converting existing pump infrastructure to deliver ethanol blends of greater than 10% and biodiesel blends of greater than 20%; and the installation of fuel pumps and related infrastructure dedicated to the distribution of higher ethanol blends and higher biodiesel blends at fueling locations. The measure would also authorize funding to help build and retrofit traditional and pipeline terminals, including rail lines, to blend biodiesel, and to build and retrofit pipelines to carry ethanol and biodiesel.

The measure would require the Underwriters Laboratory certify the equipment involved as being able to distribute blends with an ethanol content of 25% or greater.

The bill authorizes $100 million annually would be authorized under for Fiscal Year (FY) 2021 through 2026 for the effort.

Washington Insider: Tracer Army Mobilized

In addition to financial support, the national anti-virus effort is mobilizing a large group, perhaps 300,000 workers, to trace past contacts of infected people, Bloomberg is reporting this week. The effort is seen as crucial for coast-to-coast reopening, though controversial.

However, Bloomberg also notes that it is so far resulting in a “far smaller ragtag army that’s many weeks, if not months, from full deployment.”

Bloomberg also comments that the tracing effort has uncertain purposes in many cases. For example, West Virginia wants tracers to go unpaid while Texas, which is advertising jobs at $17 to $22 an hour, calls the gig a “simple” matter of telling people to stay home. New York City is seeking 1,000 hires with public-health backgrounds.

North Carolina, which is targeting unemployed people with high-school educations, received about 1,500 applications for 250 positions in just 24 hours.

“That shows you that there are a lot of people out of work,” said Paul Mahoney, a spokesperson for the program’s coordinator, Community Care of North Carolina. Five weeks into the pandemic, a record 26 million Americans had filed for unemployment benefits, more than 875,000 in North Carolina.

That wave of “desperation explains why Texas, Georgia and other states are stirring to life this week,” Bloomberg notes. Utah Gov. Gary Herbert said his state will reopen in a limited capacity Friday, including gyms, salons and dine-in restaurants so long as they “exercise extreme precautions.” Wyoming is doing likewise, while California’s Gov. Gavin Newsom is considering opening schools as early as July to make up for lost class time.

The main reason for the needed “army” is the belief by experts that long-term stability won’t come without a way to quickly spot COVID-19 outbreaks and stop them. As a result, the US with its “flagging public-health system,” is asking trainees to press total strangers about details: Where have you been, for how long and who else was there? And their phone numbers, please?

So, the “army” may include 300,000 tracers and specialists, according to Tom Frieden, a former US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director and New York City health commissioner.

“Early in the outbreak, many health departments began systematic contact tracing but rapidly were overwhelmed,” Frieden said. “Now that cases are coming down in some areas, we have to trace contacts in a simple, more scalable way.”

In the meantime, House Oversight and Reform Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., said that officials from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and Department of Health and Human Services told lawmakers recently that states face shortages of testing supplies as well as personal protective equipment such as masks and medical gowns.

This acknowledgment came in spite of President Donald Trump's recent comment that governors have sufficient testing equipment. He commented on Wednesday that “the only reason the U.S. has reported one million cases of coronavirus is that our testing is “so much better” than any other country in the World.”

Still, Bloomberg points out that the virus crisis is thrusting governments on both sides of the Atlantic into a fiscal emergency along with the medical one. It reports that the EU and the US both are grappling with questions regarding how to assist their hardest-hit members without being dragged down by them. In Europe, indebted Italy is “in need” while in the US “it’s big states like New York and Illinois. “The geography and political systems may differ, but the problem is the same,” the report argues.

Both economies boast central powers that want to avoid getting on the hook for the debts of the under-performers. Republicans in Washington grumble about taking on Illinois’ problems while Berlin fears Rome’s.

In addition, there other unusual approaches to virus-related problems being undertaken. For example, the president signed an executive order Wednesday that “compels slaughterhouses to remain open, setting up a showdown between the giant companies that produce meat and the unions and activists who want to protect workers in a pandemic.” Meat processing plants around the U.S. have shut down because of the coronavirus but the president said that “such closures threaten the continued functioning of the national meat and poultry supply chain, undermining critical infrastructure during the national emergency.”

Using the Defense Production Act, he is ordering plants to stay open as part of the critical infrastructure needed to keep people fed amid growing supply disruptions from the outbreak. The government is expected to provide additional protective gear for employees as well as guidance.

So, we will see. Clearly, the federal and state governments are convinced of the need to take important, often extreme steps to offset the impacts of the outbreak. These are leading to widespread charges of unfairness and inequity across the nation even as they raise questions of overall effectiveness â?? charges and concerns that should be watched closely by producers 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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