Washington Insider-- Thursday

Expanded Family Plan Pushed

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

Senate Agriculture Panel Met With USDA's Vilsack

Members of the Senate Agriculture Committee met with USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack Tuesday in what was an off-the-record session, according to Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa.

While not sharing what other lawmakers brought up or Vilsack's responses, Grassley told reporters he raised issues on "protecting farmers from corporations." He noted provisions in farm bills that addressed some of those issues and he called on USDA to “complete the work of Congress” on that front.

While he slipped and said that Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., brought up biofuel assistance that Congress authorized in the December COVID aid plan, Grassley said his intention was to raise the issue as it is "very important" for his home state of Iowa which is "number one" in biofuel production. He noted that former USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue had told Congress he needed more authority to be able to provide financial assistance to biofuel producers which was provided in the COVID aid plan.

New Trade Deals Continue as Question for Biden Administration

Wrapping up trade deals with the UK and Kenya remain open questions for the Biden administration, with a discussion between U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) Katherine Tai and UK Secretary of State for International Trade Liz Truss yielding no update on the pending trade deal.

Readouts of the session from the U.S. and UK noted the two discussed "issues of mutual importance," including "industrial subsidies, climate change, and the large civil aircraft dispute," the USTR readout said. But neither side made mention of the pending trade negotiations that were started under the Trump administration.

As for Kenya, Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Thursday will meet with Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta and Cabinet Secretary for Foreign Affairs Ambassador Raychelle Omamo. A U.S. State Department fact sheet released ahead of the meeting noted that two sides launched bilateral trade negotiations in July 2020. “The two sides are currently reviewing the negotiations before deciding the next steps,” the fact sheet noted.

The Biden administration has made clear that negotiating new trade deals is lower on their priority list on trade with more attention likely on enforcement of existing trade deals. It appears that is still the case.

Washington Insider: Expanded Family Plan Pushed

President Joe Biden unveiled a sweeping $1.8 trillion plan to expand educational opportunities and child care for families, funded in part by the largest tax increases on wealthy Americans in decades, Bloomberg is reporting today.

Called the American Families Plan, the president's third major legislative proposal combines $1 trillion in spending with $800 billion in tax cuts and credits for middle- and lower-income families.

The plan would make pre-kindergarten and community college free across the country, extend the child tax credit through 2025 and make permanent an expansion of the earned income tax credit to childless adults with low incomes, provide direct support to families for child care, finance teacher training and create a national paid family leave program Bloomberg says.

Biden's tax hikes include raising the top rate for individuals back to 39.6%, changing the treatment of capital gains so that wealthy people don't benefit from lower rates on their investment income, eliminating the "carried interest" provision that benefits fund managers, and greatly increasing funding for the Internal Revenue Service to enforce tax collection and audit wealthy taxpayers.

His proposals are uncertain in Congress, where Democrats hold a working Senate majority only by virtue of Vice President Kamala Harris's tie-breaking vote.

Ahead of Wednesday's speech, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said he expects an “aspirational” presentation that “gives you encouragement” on “how we should all unite and come together.”

"It'll be an upbeat speech," Manchin told reporters yesterday.

Manchin has publicly said Biden and congressional Democrats need to work with Republicans on a bipartisan infrastructure package rather than immediately trying to forge a partisan path ahead. He said yesterday he's satisfied Biden is doing his best so far.

"Sure, they can always do more but he has," Manchin said. "He's reaching out now, and even on this infrastructure bill, you haven't seen him double down and say we've got to pass it all in one big package."

Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., also said bipartisan talks on an infrastructure bill are going well.

"We continue to be having conversation," Wicker told reporters on Tuesday. "There's a nice back and forth, an exchange of ideas. I think they're interested in our proposal."

Over the past 14 months, Congress passed three pandemic-relief packages that injected almost $5 trillion into the economy. The president will today make the case for an additional $1.8 trillion in spending and tax credits on initiatives from education and child care to paid family and medical leave.

And that's on top of $2.25 trillion in infrastructure, home health care and other outlays proposed last month. The raft of new spending would be funded by a host of tax hikes directed at corporations and wealthy Americans. It's all aimed at raising productivity, expanding the workforce and spreading the benefits of the U.S. economy more equitably.

There is no sign that Republicans will go along with any of Biden's proposal, leaving Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., with a narrow majority and hardly any votes to spare. Bloomberg sees this as a potentially tight spot “if her Democratic rank-and-file members don't let up on their demands.”

In the Senate, expanding Biden's proposal could jeopardize the ability of Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., to get it through an evenly divided chamber using special "budget reconciliation" rules.

In the meantime, Biden urged Americans hesitant to get vaccinated against COVID-19 to reconsider, citing new federal guidance that inoculated people can begin socializing outdoors without masks. "Gathering with a group of friends in a park, going on a picnic -- as long as you're vaccinated and outdoors, you can do it without a mask," Biden said at the White House yesterday. "If you're vaccinated, you can do more things, more safely."

Roughly 141 million Americans have received at least one dose of a vaccine, according to the Bloomberg Vaccine Tracker, but the pace of vaccinations has dropped under 3 million a day despite abundant supply. "For those who haven't gotten their vaccine yet, especially if you're younger or thinking you don't need it, this is another great reason to go get vaccinated now." Biden said.

"Today is another day we can take a step back to the normalcy of before," said CDC Director Rochelle Walensky at a news briefing announcing the changes today. She pointed to a "really hopeful decline" of about 21% in the 7-day average for cases.

The CDC's new recommendations, which represent one of the most significant relaxations of guidelines since the pandemic began, are complex and wide-ranging. They come with almost 30% of Americans fully inoculated and with increases starting to slow in the daily coronavirus caseload. At the same time, the guidelines send a message that getting vaccinated may offer a clear route to a more normal lifestyle at a time when a large number of Americans remain hesitant.

Also President Biden has said he intends to send vaccines from the U.S. to India as that nation battles the worst COVID-19 surge on Earth – but he did not specify timing for a decision or shipments. He said he and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi had discussed "when we'll be able to send actual vaccines to India, which is my intention to do." In the meantime, the U.S. is shipping aid including the therapeutic drug remdisivir and machinery for vaccine manufacturing, he said.

So, we will see. This week has turned out to be highly political in its focus, and more than a few of the key trends are positive. Nevertheless, many risks remain and producers should watch current developments very closely as they emerge, Washington Insider believes.

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