Washington Insider-- Tuesday

Battle Over Administration Proposals

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

Sen. Thune Expects CFAP, WHIP-Plus Payments 'Soon'

Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., said last week that the next round of Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP) payments should be coming soon. Getting the payments restarted that were put on hold by USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack is a “top priority” for him, Thune said.

As for the Wildfire and Hurricane Indemnity Program Plus (WHIP-Plus), Thune noted that with the signup deadline April 9, that should mean payments will start to flow. Once the total cost is known, that will determine if more money will be added. He also said that when 2019-crop payments are finished, that's when they'll figure out if there will be a WHIP+ for 2020-crop.

US-Mexico Potato Trade Situation Still Percolating With Postponement Of Action By Mexican Supreme Court

The National Potato Council (NPC) said the Mexican Supreme Court's decision last week to postpone action on cases that would allow full importation of fresh U.S. potatoes appears rooted in political interference by the Mexico potato industry.

NPC said the Mexican news outlet Reforma reported that CONPAPA, a group representing Mexico's potato producers, asked the president to direct the head of the Ministry of Agriculture to withdraw its appeal in the lawsuits, which would end the legal process.

“Given that the cartel Wednesday morning requested that the government drop these cases, and immediately after the court again delayed their decision, it is reasonable to assume that the legal process in Mexico is impaired by politics,” NPC CEO Kam Quarles said. “Therefore, in order to enforce our rights, it appears the USMCA [U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement] is the best option. Once we successfully prove our case there, it will allow the U.S. to attach retaliatory tariffs to Mexican agricultural products such as avocados until they provide the access we are due.”

The matter is one of the early friction points between the U.S. and Mexico under USMCA, with NPC and lawmakers pushing for action on the situation from the Biden administration.

Washington Insider: Battle Over Administration Proposals

Congress returns this week and the House and Senate Leadership are moving forward to begin to enact the President's long-term economic strategies built around massive infrastructure and manufacturing investments, Bloomberg is reporting this week.

After first enacting a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 recovery plan without Republican support, the Biden administration says it continues to hope to strike deals with the GOP in order to advance a multi-part plan that could total more than $3 trillion. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., also is pushing for action this spring and summer on President Joe Biden's noneconomic domestic priorities that the House has already passed, including ambitious changes to federal laws on voting, civil rights, health care, and gun ownership rules -- among others.

In the House, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., is planning votes on legislation on worker protections and immigration.

At the same time, Democrats say they are weighing different strategies to push the president's agenda, including use of budget rules to enact bills with simple majorities -- and possibly upending the long-standing Senate filibuster rule that requires 60 votes to pass most bills. But bipartisan deals still could be in the offing, as Biden seeks at least 10 Republicans to join Democrats in the evenly split 50-50 Senate, Bloomberg thinks.

President Biden says he wants to boost the American economy and facilitate competition with China using his $2.25 trillion infrastructure and public works package. The investments included would include a “wide variety of projects,” from traditional spending on roads and bridges, to funds aimed at improving care for the elderly and people with disabilities.

However, Bloomberg thinks that GOP opposition could drive Democrats to turn to budget reconciliation once again to sidestep a potential filibuster, which would require a supermajority of 60 senators to break. The plan includes about $620 billion for transportation and resilience; $580 billion for workforce development, research, and manufacturing; $400 billion for elder and disability care; and $650 billion for initiatives aimed at better quality of life at home, including lead-free pipes, broadband, and housing.

The President is intensifying his links both Republican and Democratic members of Congress through numerous meetings on political support for a broad range of proposals. In addition, a consortium of chief executive officers and other leaders of major U.S. corporations held an hour-long Zoom call on Saturday to discuss ways to push for greater voting access amid new restrictions enacted or pending in Georgia, Texas and other states.

Among the options being considered are re-evaluations of donations to candidates supporting restrictions on voter access and reconsidering investments in states that act upon such proposals, according to the non-profit Coalition for Inclusive Capitalism, which co-hosted the meeting with Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, a Yale School of Management professor, and the Leadership Now Project.

In addition, tensions within Biden's Democratic leadership have intensified, Bloomberg says. For example, leading progressives like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., had a choice after they won election in 2018 and expanded their ranks in 2020: challenge Democratic leaders from the sidelines, or “get in the game.” Now Bloomberg says their decision to play by Congress' rules is giving them enhanced clout in a government under unified control of the new administration.

The report notes that members of Ocasio-Cortez's so-called Squad are taking leadership roles in the House and building experience on Capitol Hill, turning them into not just ideological purists but also strategic legislators working toward more liberal dreams like a $15 federal minimum wage and a permanent child tax credit within reach.

In the meantime, President Biden created a 36-member bipartisan commission to study potential changes to the U.S. Supreme Court, fulfilling a promise he made on the campaign trail. The Presidential Commission will look at “the contemporary public debate for and against Supreme Court reform,” the White House said on Friday.

The departments of Agriculture, Transportation, Education, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, Justice, and the Environmental Protection Agency would all get budget hikes under Biden's $1.5 trillion discretionary spending request to Congress on Friday. The administration says it intends to make racial equity one of its top priorities and said it will have officials embedded across all federal agencies.

Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell reported last week that the U.S. economy was at an “inflection point” with stronger growth and hiring ahead thanks to rising vaccinations and powerful policy support -- but that COVID-19 remains a threat. “We feel like we're at a place where the economy is about to start growing much more quickly and job creation coming in much more quickly,” Powell told CBS on Wednesday.

Reports indicate that highlights a trend in which vaccination requirements are fast becoming facts of life in the U.S. as additional universities and many other institutions implement new requirements. It notes that Brown, Notre Dame, and Rutgers are among universities warning students and staff they'll need shots in order to return to campus this fall. Some sports teams are demanding proof of vaccination or a negative test from fans as arenas reopen. A Houston hospital chain recently ordered its 26,000 employees to get vaccinated; moves that imply new controversies for the future.

So, we will see. These are trends producers should watch closely as highly controversial debates continue to emerge -- and as anti-COVID efforts intensify, Washington Insider believes.

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