Washington Insider-- Thursday

Big Fight Over Filibuster

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

Experts Signal Carbon Bank, Carbon Efforts Will Take Time

Experts at a Farm Foundation session on climate and carbon markets laid out the possibilities for farmers with the efforts to capture carbon and to provide financial incentive/support for farmers on that front, but also indicated that developing the processes, procedures and tools needed for the important factors of measuring carbon and verifying activities will take time to develop.

The experts also stressed a need for farmers to be able to get benefits from deploying carbon capture efforts and that failure to make that happen will limit the effectiveness of any such program. While corporate efforts are being seen, those participating in the forum related a view that government could play a key role in research into technologies and practices.

The effort will not be an immediate shift, with some indicating it could take upwards of 20 years for moving to new farming practices that sequester more carbon in the soils. And for farmers that have already deployed those efforts, one of the keys may be having the data to back up what their actions have meant in terms of carbon capture.

Carbon measurement and carbon prices remain two major components ahead, especially for those already deploying practices like minimum-tillage or no-till. Developing ways to measure those actions retroactively will be key.

Japan To Temporarily Raise Tariffs On Imports Of US Beef

Japanese trade data have confirmed that the country will impose a higher tariff on imports of U.S. beef for 30 days.

Japan's Ministry of Finance said the tariff will be raised to 38.5% from a current 25.8% for 30 days starting March 18; for scraps, the tariff will rise to 38.5% from a current 34.7%.

The U.S. shipped 242,229 metric tons of beef in Japan's fiscal 2020, exceeding the 242,000-metric ton quota agreed to in the U.S.-Japan trade deal.

The two governments will now hold talks on the situation within the next 10 days. The tariff will drop to 25% April 17, the level for Japan's fiscal 2021.

Beef importers could delay their customs processes until then to avoid paying the higher tariffs, according to an official with the Japanese ministry.

Washington Insider: Big Fight Over Filibuster

There is a lot of talk this week about really big policy ideas—and many of these concern direct supports and specific taxes. Budget and spending battles are interesting, but perhaps the most intense conflict appears to be brewing over the filibuster. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., warned that removing the need for 60 votes to advance most legislation would lead to dire consequences.

The Hill quoted McConnell as saying, “let me say this very clearly for all 99 of my colleagues: Nobody serving in this chamber can even begin, can even begin, to imagine what a completely scorched-earth Senate would look like,” McConnell said from the Senate floor.

Still, The Hill reported that Democrats “largely shrugged off the GOP leader's predictions, arguing he's already gummed up the Senate.”

“For Sen. McConnell and other Republicans to plead for hanging onto this tradition is actually threatening that the Senate will continue to do less and less each year. There are those of us now in control of the majority side ... who really believe there is much more to be done in the Senate, said Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill.”

The President “appears to agree,” The Hill said.

"It almost is getting to the point where democracy's having a hard time functioning." Biden then announced that he supports changing the rules to bring back the so-called “talking filibuster," when senators needed to be on the floor if they are attempting to block bills.

At the same time, Senate Republicans are accusing their Democratic colleagues of hypocrisy for talking about reforming or getting rid of the filibuster after using the same procedural tool to block several GOP bills during the previous Congress.

The Hill thinks this “back-and-forth” is intensifying amid growing support within the Senate Democratic Conference for reforming the rules over concerns that Republicans will use the filibuster to obstruct proposals that have the support of a majority of Americans.

Durbin, who has been participating in behind-the-scenes talks on rules reforms, offered his strongest rebuke of the filibuster to date earlier this week, comparing it to a “weapon of mass destruction” that is holding the Senate “hostage.”

The filibuster undercuts American democracy as it is misused by senators to block legislation urgently needed and supported by a strong majority of the American people,” Durbin said during a floor speech Monday.

Supporters of reforms argue that without changes, many of the administration's key campaign promises are effectively dead on arrival. Though Democrats control the majority, they still need the support of at least 10 Republican senators to pass most bills.

Democrats were able to use reconciliation — a budget process that allows the majority to avoid a filibuster — to pass the recent $1.9 trillion coronavirus bill. Democrats are also likely to use reconciliation to pass a sweeping infrastructure and jobs package amid deep divisions with Republicans on the scope of the legislation and how to pay for it.

But without filibuster reform, Democrats will need GOP support to pass any of their other big priorities: immigration reform, voting rights, anti-discrimination measures and background checks, just to name a few.

Ideas being discussed by the caucus include everything from smaller changes that would leave the filibuster intact to reinstating the talking filibuster now backed by Biden, or gutting it altogether by use of a simple majority.

“I support discussing any proposal that ends the misuse of the filibuster as a weapon of mass obstruction. If the Senate retains the filibuster, we must change the rules so that a senator who wants to bring our government to a standstill endures — at least — some discomfort in the process. We need new rules that actually promote debate,” Durbin said.

It's hardly the first filibuster fight that has buffeted an increasingly partisan Senate in recent years. In 2011, McConnell and then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., reached agreement where Republicans would limit their filibusters if Reid agreed to open up the floor to more amendment votes.

In 2013, Democrats used the “nuclear option” to end filibusters on lower courts and most executive nominations. Four years later, Republicans in the GOP-controlled Senate ended the use of the 60-vote filibuster on Supreme Court nominations, a move that helped former President Trump add three justices to the court.

This time around, part of the problem for reform advocates is the razor-thin margin in the Senate. To go nuclear, Schumer would need the support of every lawmaker in his 50-member caucus. But several are viewed as wary, and Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., are both on the record as recently in opposition to such a move.

Manchin indicated on Tuesday that he wasn't getting pressure from the caucus saying they “know who I am” and that his position hasn't changed. “Everybody's talking, there's so many different ideas out there. And that's healthy when you want to talk about everything.”

Asked what his bottom line is, Manchin added: “You cannot get rid of the filibuster unless your intention is to destroy the Senate.”

So, we will see. It is clear that opposition to the current filibuster process is growing—but it is far from clear just what could productively replace it in the current political environment. The expectation is for more and more controversial fights on this issue alone, among a number of others that should be watched closely as the season progresses.

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