Washington Insider-- Tuesday

Almost Everything's An Issue Now

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

Beijing Asks Food Importers to Avoid Frozen Foods From Countries With High COVID Infection Levels

The city of Beijing is calling on food importers to avoid frozen food from countries with high levels of COVID-19 outbreaks, according to a statement from the Beijing Municipal Commerce Bureau.

"Customs and local governments have repeatedly detected the coronavirus in imported cold chain food, proving it risks contamination," the agency said in a statement issued to import companies, according to Reuters.

The agency also told food importers to "proactively avoid importing cold chain food from areas heavily hit by the coronavirus" and make alternative plans for imports.

Chinese authorities said they had suspended some seafood imports from two Russian vessels and a Brazilian company after COVID-19 was found in samples.

USDA Raises Forecast For Overall Food Price Inflation And Restaurant Prices For 2020

USDA Friday increased its forecast for overall food price inflation in 2020 to range of 2.5% to 3.5%, up from their prior outlook of an increase of 2% to 3%. Their outlook for food away from home (restaurant prices) also rose to 2% to 3% versus a prior outlook for an increase of 1.5% to 2.5%.

“Prices have been relatively slow to retreat from the highs reached as a result of the pandemic, so some forecasts have been revised upward this month,” USDA's Economic Research Service (ERS) said.

USDA still sees 2020 food at home (grocery store) prices rising 2.5% to 3.5% in 2020.

Their outlooks for 2021 food prices were left unchanged from their outlook issued in August.

Washington Insider: Almost Everything's An Issue Now

Centrist Democrats are pushing for another vote in the House on a coronavirus response stimulus bill, but the key question is whether high-level bipartisan negotiators can strike a deal.

Bloomberg reports that lawmakers will “return to Washington with little time left for stimulus talks and other urgent priorities” after their coming recess. House members are set to leave at the end of this week until after the election. Senators still have to pass the stopgap funding measure to avert a shutdown by Wednesday night's deadline — and Republicans are racing to confirm President Donald Trump's pick for the U.S. Supreme Court before the Nov. 3 election.

House members may vote on a second Democratic coronavirus bill in order to demonstrate they're willing to compromise, Bloomberg says. But a handshake deal between Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin would likely be more meaningful than a partisan vote. Pelosi and Mnuchin spoke Friday afternoon on coronavirus relief and “agreed to continue their conversation in the days ahead,” Pelosi's deputy chief of staff noted on Friday.

Pelosi said Sunday there's a chance she and Mnuchin can still reach a deal and that Democrats will unveil a new “proffer” shortly. “I trust Secretary Mnuchin to present something that can reach a solution and I believe we can come to an agreement,” she said.”

She added if a deal isn't struck soon, Democrats might vote on the House — only version that includes funds for airlines and restaurants and more Paycheck Protection Program funding. “The public is going to have to see why $2.2 trillion, or now $2.4 trillion, perhaps, is necessary,” she said, adding that the president's “denial of the virus, and resistance to do anything to crush it, has made matters worse.”

Swing-district Democrats are pushing for action regardless of whether there's a deal. Eight moderate Democrats sent a letter to Pelosi on Friday, asking her to “bring up a bill that “demonstrates our commitment to meeting Republicans in the middle, as we have expressed our willingness to do, and advance it through the House with the haste this crisis demands.”

The letter was signed by Democratic Reps. Cindy Axne, Abby Finkenauer and David Loebsack of Iowa, Susan Wild of Pennsylvania., Angie Craig of Minnesota, Susie Lee of Nevada, and Chris Pappas of New Hampshire, as well as Del. Michael San Nicolas of Guam.

In the meantime, House leadership has downplayed the importance of a messaging vote. “We want to get a deal with Secretary Mnuchin and the Senate because we want to get people help, not just messages,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., told reporters last week.

In addition, House Democrats' lawsuit over the administration's transfer of funds to pay for a border wall was revived last week by the DC Circuit Court of Appeals decision. A three-judge panel on Friday vacated a lower-court decision that found that the House didn't have legal standing to challenge the transfer of funds.

The opinion written by Judge David Sentelle “makes for interesting reading” for those who follow the budget and appropriations process, Bloomberg says.

It notes that the House sued over the Trump administration's move to supersede congressional appropriations and that the House alone, without the Senate, doesn't have standing to sue. The question was whether the House as an individual chamber was specifically injured by the administration's decision to spend money without congressional approval.

The court ruled in the House's favor on its standing to sue, saying that while an individual chamber can't appropriate funds on its own, it can effectively block appropriations, because both chambers need to pass a bill before it can become law. In other words, “each chamber has a distinct individual right” in the appropriations process, especially when it comes to limiting spending, the opinion says.

“To put it simply, the Appropriations Clause requires two keys to unlock the Treasury, and the House holds one of those keys,” the opinion says. “The Executive Branch has, in a word, snatched the House's key out of its hands. That is the injury over which the House is suing.”

While it may seem like the argument is splitting hairs over the legislative powers of the House versus Congress as a whole, Sentelle's opinion lays out why the powers of an individual chamber matter in the appropriations process.

Under the administration's “standing paradigm,” the Executive Branch can freely spend Treasury funds as it wishes unless and until a veto-proof majority of both houses of Congress forbids it. Even that might not be enough: Under the defendants' standing theory, if the Executive Branch ignored that congressional override, the House would remain just as disabled to sue to protect its own institutional interests. “That turns the constitutional order upside down.”

So, we will see. As the time before the elections dwindles, and the stakes rise, these battles can be expected to become increasingly intense — and, possibly, more frequent. They are often “high stakes” fights and should be watched closely by producers as they emerge, Washington Insider believes.

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