Washington Insider - Tuesday

Quiet Times in Congress

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

Froman Urges Progress on Trade Issues

The U.S. and European Union (EU) should press forward with Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) deal negotiations, while congressional ratification of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) also remains a priority, according to remarks by U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman at an event hosted by the German Marshall Fund in Brussels.

The U.S. will ensure that it and not China will set vitally important trade precedents by negotiating broad trade deals with high-level standards for issues including intellectual property, Internet policy, labor and environmental protection, Froman said.

“The rest of the world is not standing still, the question is who is at the table writing the rules of the road,” Froman noted. He reiterated his firm belief that TPP, TTIP and other trade deals are good for Americans, despite anti-trade election-year rhetoric.

Passing the TPP deal, even after the November 8 election, would be “difficult,” Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., told Froman. Congressional passage of TPP has been highlighted as a top priority for President Barack Obama’s trade agenda this year, as is concluding the TTIP talks.

Joining Froman was his EU counterpart, Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstroem. She hailed progress made during the TTIP talks but noted that more work is needed to complete the regulatory cooperation chapter. “We are almost there, but it is a technical and very complicated exercise to get it right,” Malmstoem said.

The TTIP regulatory chapter focuses on cooperation in nine sectors – automotive, chemicals, cosmetics, engineering, information and communication technology, medical devices, pesticides, pharmaceuticals and textiles.

Even with new multi- and bi-lateral trade deals being negotiated, the US and EU said they remain committed to the World Trade Organization (WTO) and its trade promoting mission. “I profoundly want to defend the WTO. It has not fully played the role it could have played and it has been stuck for a long time in the Doha round,” Malmstroem said.

Conclusion of the Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) and the expansion of the Information Technology Agreement (ITA) have helped to propel progress towards other trade agreements, including one which looks to address electronic commerce.

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ERS: Export Share of Red Meat and Poultry Production to Increase

Exports as a share of red meat and poultry production are projected to increase in 2016, while dairy’s export share is expected to decline, according to the Economic Research Service.

Red meat and poultry exports accounted for a 15% share of total production in 2015, while dairy exports commanded an 18 percent share of total production. Red meat and poultry exports as a share of production were down from the previous five-year average, due to factors including a stronger dollar, a slowing global economy and restrictions on poultry exports stemming from the 2015 US highly pathogenic avian influenza outbreak.

Dairy exports as a share of production grew in 2015, relative to the previous five-year average, up 18% in total. Production of red meat and poultry is expected to increase in 2016, while exports are forecast to increase by an even greater amount. Dairy production is also expected to increase in 2016, but exports are expected to decline.

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Washington Insider: Quiet Times in Congress

The Congress is leaving its frenetic maneuvering in Washington now as House Republicans struggle to try to find a way forward to pass a FY 2017 budget, but even they do not seem to see any clear way forward. This week, The Hill is citing Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy R-Calif., who last week was quoted saying that “more conversations among members will be required” before the budget advanced out of committee can make it to the floor. Well, yes.

Republicans have typically scheduled votes on their annual budgets within a week after committee passage since they took over the House majority in 2011. However, deep divisions among House GOP lawmakers over spending levels means they don’t currently have the votes to pass a 2017 budget resolution, the Hill said.

It is noteworthy, at the same time, to note that the political impasse is not stopping appropriators from moving forward with the 12 individual spending bills. The House Appropriations subcommittee overseeing the Department of Veterans’ Affairs and military construction projects will mark up its 2017 spending measure on Wednesday morning using the top-line spending level established in last year’s budget deal.

But, it is unclear how the budget blueprint or any of the individual appropriations bills can move forward while members of the House Freedom Caucus continue to call for rejecting last year’s top-line spending numbers—since those seem to be showing up in bill drafts now being debated.

So, it is not clear what sort of deal Speaker Ryan though he had with the Tea Party when he agreed to attempt to take on the Speaker’s job. One would think he had to have seen some sort of a clear path forward before he would agree to face the same skeptical press and recalcitrant Freedom caucus that devoured Speaker Boehner—and, it does seem that Ryan has some political capital left, although it also seems to be dwindling fast.

So, what new ideas Ryan can bring back from his visit home likely will be tested early and often, and the earliest, rudest question likely will be what new support he has found; and, failing that, what new strategies does he have up his sleeve--questions much of the political world will be pushing into focus.

In the meantime, the lack of consensus on the budget or any other major legislative deadline has consequently forced work in Congress nearly to a halt for now — or, at least they are keeping the House floor schedule extremely light. Apart from a handful of noncontroversial bills to be considered under suspension of the rules, the only other item slated for a floor vote this week is a bill to require the Justice Department and Federal Trade Commission to adopt the same standards for reviewing proposed mergers and acquisitions.

Moreover, this week will be shorter than usual as the House plans to adjourn on the afternoon of March 23 for its two-week Easter recess.

After this week, the House won’t be back in session until Tuesday, April 12. The Senate is set to be out until Monday, April 4. Probably, Mark Twain would have had something uplifting to say about these schedules, Washington Insider believes.


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