Washington Insider-- Friday

Lack of New Subsidy Deal Concerns the Fed

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

China Says Trade Confab With US On Tap In Coming Days

China and the U.S. will hold trade talks on the status of the Phase One agreement between the two countries “in the coming days,” according to Chinese Commerce Ministry spokesman Gao Feng. He made the remarks during a briefing but did not offer any details, except to say, "Both parties have agreed to hold a call in the near future.”

Meanwhile, White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows said this week that no talks had been scheduled as of yet. “There are no rescheduled talks ... at this point,” Meadows told reporters. “Ambassador Lighthizer continues to have discussions with his Chinese counterparts involving purchases and fulfilling their agreements.”

This comes as White House trade advisor Peter Navarro acknowledged China's stepped-up purchases of U.S. farm products as part of their commitments made under the Phase One trade deal.

Chinese Ambassador to the U.S. Cui Tiankai said at a Brookings Institution event last week that U.S. needed to make decisions on bringing bilateral ties between the two countries back to a normal track.

USDA Updates Payment Limits, Eligibility Rules

USDA has released new rules on payment limits and payment eligibility to reflect updated provisions in the 2018 Farm Bill.

The actions include that USDA may approve a waiver of the average adjusted gross income (AGI) limitation for participants of certain conservation contracts administered by the Farm Service Agency (FSA) and the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) on environmentally sensitive land.

Also, the mandatory changes expand the definition of “family member” to include first cousins, nieces, and nephews.

The Office of Management and Budget completed its review of the USDA plan July 29 and the final rule is published in today's Federal Register and was effective August 20.


Washington Insider: Lack of New Subsidy Deal Concerns the Fed

The Hill and other media are reporting this week that Federal Reserve officials expressed deep concerns that the steady spread of the coronavirus would continue to slow the pace of economic recovery and drive the U.S. into a much sharper downturn later this year, according to minutes from its July meeting released Wednesday.

During the July 28-29 meeting of the Federal Open Market Committee—the Fed's policymaking arm — bank officials anguished over signs that the U.S. was losing ground in its fight against the pandemic and the recession it spurred.

Fed leaders cited a slowdown in hiring between May and June, rising cases of coronavirus across the U.S. and the expiration of crucial fiscal stimulus as critical threats to a fragile economy severely restrained by an uncontrolled pandemic.

“The path of the economy will depend significantly on the course of the virus and the ongoing public health crisis will weigh heavily on economic activity, employment, and inflation in the near term and poses considerable risks to the economic outlook over the medium term,” the minutes read.

The readout from the Fed's July meeting is the latest window into the growing concern over the economic impact of the pandemic among central bank officials. Fed Chairman Jerome Powell and several reserve bank presidents have issued increasingly direct calls for social distancing measures, widespread mask-wearing, and other practices proven to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus. In addition, the July FOMC minutes outline the warning signs that moved Powell and other Fed leaders to speak directly about the economic necessity of a robust public health response, The Hill said.

The July meeting wrapped days before a $600 boost to weekly unemployment benefits and an eviction and foreclosure ban expired, sapping fiscal support that economists considered crucial to preventing a deeper downturn.

“Participants noted that the fiscal support initiated in the spring through the CARES Act had been very important in granting some financial relief to millions of families,” the minutes read. Several officials argued that extending that aid “would likely be important for supporting vulnerable families, and thus the economy more broadly, in the period ahead.”

But Congress and the administration have been unable to strike a bipartisan deal ahead of the July 31 deadline and have been locked in a stalemate for weeks since. The broad disagreements among Democrats and Republicans are far greater than those between liberal and conservative economists, who largely agree on the need for another stimulus bill, The Hill said.

In a separate report, The Hill took an unusually critical position regarding Congressional efforts to provide necessary support. It asserts that “majorities in the Democratic-controlled House and Republican-controlled Senate also favor spending about $100 billion to help schools and universities implement full-bore distance learning for an uncertain duration. Yet both chambers went home for August without passing such aid.”

The Hill concludes that, “clearly, this isn't how our democracy is supposed to work — and the current lack of cooperation leads to the “monumental gridlock and dysfunction that has made Congress one of the least-respected and least-liked institutions in the land.”

The report cites a Washington Post early August report that “the talks on Capitol Hill had a dramatic and bitter unraveling.” The parties had managed to approve earlier aid packages,” but this time, “there seemed to be little goodwill or trust, and both sides dug in even as the economic recovery showed signs of losing steam, millions of Americans remained unemployed and deaths from the novel coronavirus continued to climb.”

The Hill then concludes that perhaps the most incomprehensible aspect of this behavior is that the leadership's self-imposed logjams steadily push more power and responsibility away from Congress and toward the executive branch. “We saw this when President Trump announced he would use his executive powers to shift funds (a constitutionally questionable action) to enhance unemployment benefits by $400 a week, partly replacing the $600 that has lapsed during Congress' impasses, the report said.

Now, the Hill thinks that “most Americans' expectations are probably quite low” and it counsels the Congress to “just pass measures you already agree on to help the country at least begin to address its toughest problems.”

So, we will see. Amid nominating conventions of both parties, a fairly new fight is focusing on how the fall elections should be held and votes cast and counted — perhaps the most contentious issue of all. These are a few of many debates and fights going on this fall that 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.

If you have questions for DTN Washington Insider, please email edit@dtn.com