Washington Insider-- Wednesday

Ambitious Infrastructure Efforts

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

USDA Sets April 30 Deadline For Processing QLA Applications

The deadline for the Quality Loss Assistance (QLA) program was April 9, though producers in many areas across the country were unable to complete the process before that date.

USDA's Farm Service Agency (FSA) has set a deadline of April 30 for QLA applications on a register to be finalized and for producers to submit all their supporting documentation. County FSA offices are currently undertaking Phase I reviews of the QLA applications (determine if information provided is reasonable and adjust applications as necessary).

Those Phase I reviews are to be completed by May 14.

USDA at the end of March set a deadline of April 16 for all Wildfire and Hurricane Indemnity Program Plus (WHIP-Plus) applications to be finalized and approved for payment.

Plus, FSA said it would work with the Risk Management Agency (RMA) to determine if WHIP, WHIP-Plus and QLA applicants have met the requirements for the purchase of crop insurance or Noninsured Assistance Program (NAP) coverage as a condition of receiving their payment.

USDA Requests Comments On Extending Information Collection For Meat, Egg Product Recalls

USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is requesting comments by June 14 on renewing its authority to collect information on voluntary recalls of meat, poultry, and egg products. FSIS can request firms recall meat, poultry, or egg products that have been imported or produced and are adulterated or misbranded.

When making such requests, FSIS asks the recalling firm to provide basic information such as the “identity of the recalled product, the reason for the recall, and information about the distributors and retail consignees to whom the product was shipped.” Companies are required to keep this information under the Federal Meat Inspection Act, the Poultry Products Inspection Act, and the Egg Products Inspection Act. FSIS said it has not changed its estimates on the burden of the data collection effort.

The current authority to collect the information expires September 30, 2021. The request is non-controversial and the full expectation is the agency will put the extension in place before the current authority expires.

Washington Insider: Ambitious Infrastructure Efforts

The Biden administration is continuing to assert that both the size and scope of its $2.25 trillion jobs plan -- as well as how to pay for it -- are up for negotiation, “setting the stage for what is likely to be months of congressional wrangling on one of the White House's chief legislative priorities,” the Washington Post reported.

The paper says that a top GOP senator told President Biden on Monday that it would be "almost impossible" to win over Republicans if the plan envisions boosting the corporate tax rate, as it currently does. There is also widespread private skepticism among congressional Republicans that the White House is genuinely open to a cross-party agreement that might significantly scale back Biden's ambitions.

But the president, as well as White House officials, insisted that his overtures at bipartisanship were earnest and that he would not have been spending hours meeting with Republicans otherwise.

Monday's session, which a White House official said was the first of several the president Biden will host this month, marked the informal beginning of months of arm-twisting and vote haggling on Capitol Hill to line up support behind the administration's American Jobs Plan, a proposal that stretches beyond the traditional definitions of infrastructure.

The plan forms the cornerstone of Biden's economic agenda and includes Democratic priorities that the White House hopes to enact before the 2022 midterms. Despite the president's stated appetite for bipartisanship, the infrastructure bill has received little interest from Republicans so far, particularly with Biden's proposal to finance it by raising taxes on corporations from the current 21% to 28%.

Under former president Donald Trump, Republicans passed a bill cutting the corporate taxes from the then-rate of 35% to 21%, and few are willing to consider reversing that, even in part.

"I view the 2017 tax bill as one of my signature achievements in my entire career," Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss, said. "It would be an almost impossible sell for the president to come to a bipartisan agreement that included the undoing of that signature."

Biden gathered lawmakers including Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., who chairs the Senate Commerce Committee and Wicker, her GOP counterpart. The panel plays a critical role in congressional debates on railroads and broadband Internet access, major elements of the Biden infrastructure plan.

Reps. Garret Graves, R-La., and Donald Payne Jr. D-N.J. who also took part in the meeting, belong to a panel of House lawmakers considering legislation to fund and improve the nation's highways while implementing new programs to reduce carbon emissions.

Other attendees at the meeting included Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Calif., Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., Rep. David Price, D-N.C., and Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska. Young is the currently the longest-serving member of the House, and Biden affectionately dubbed him the "dean."

"The president made a compelling case for acting big and broadly when it comes to the definition of infrastructure," Padilla said. The freshman senator, who assumed Kamala Harris's Senate seat when she was elevated to the vice presidency, said Biden's message was that simply catching up on deferred maintenance on roads and bridges would be a significant lost opportunity.

Padilla also made a case that the administration could consider not paying for parts of the infrastructure and jobs plan -- echoing the view of some other Democrats -- although other attendees and people briefed on the meeting said Biden didn't appear too keen on deficit financing. The president also opposed raising gasoline taxes to finance parts of the plan, the White House later confirmed, despite suggestions from some Republicans that he consider doing so.

Speaking with reporters after the session, Payne said Republicans raised many issues "with parts of the bill," including the size of the package, its policy scope and the White House's preferred means of paying for it.

"The president was much more flexible than I was," Payne added. "I believe that the American Jobs Plan is a once-in-a-lifetime generational opportunity for us to modernize our airports, our roadways, our rail stations and our water infrastructure, and it's long overdue."

Wicker confirmed that he and other Republicans wanted to stick with what they have described as traditional infrastructure--such as ports, rails and roads. Young agreed that lawmakers have to be cognizant about the "very definition of infrastructure." He added that he told Biden the White House should reconsider implementing an increase in the gasoline tax.

The president has insisted that his outreach to Republicans is genuine, given the broad political appeal of addressing the country's infrastructure needs. But the administration has also signaled that if negotiations drag on, Democrats may decide to act on their own, as they did in approving a $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package in March.

So, we will see. The administration's proposals appear to have considerable support, although there are major differences among key lawmakers. Certainly, these proposals are high stakes and should be watched closely as the debates continue, Washington Insider believes.

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