Hill slowly focuses on non-COVID, non-election issues

Inside D.C.

Hill slowly focuses on non-COVID, non-election issues

It may seem the only news these days focuses on COVID 19 cases, the fight against inequality or President Trump’s reelection challenges, whether Joe Biden or Josh Bolton.  Truth be told, Washington, DC, is slowly trying to take care of other business. 

There will be a “phase four” economic stimulus bill as talks accelerate, though no word on whether the price tag will be billions or trillions.  USDA said this week it’s mailed $2.9 billion in producer direct payments based on its $16 billion in CARES Act funding.  Lawmakers are trying to shoehorn several more pro-ag funding issues into the package, including retroactively giving biofuels makers a break.  Rep. Collin Peterson (D, MN), Agriculture Committee chair, last week told a virtual biofuels caucus session that much of what’s in the HEROES Act, approved by the House last month, will likely survive in the Senate’s next stimulus bill.  Financial aid to ethanol makers, as well as addressing frustration with EPA’s handling of small refinery waivers, including pending retroactive review of 52 waiver petitions, and the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) blending mandate process are also likely to make the cut, Peterson said.  The lawmaker says he’s talked with his counterpart in the Senate, Sen. Pat Roberts (R, KS), and they’re pretty much of one mind on what should be included, though he expects Senate “tweaks.” Sen. Charles Grassley (R, IA), Finance Committee chair, says end-game talks will start post-July 4 break, with the bill hitting the floor around August 6, the last congressional workday until after Labor Day.

The American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) checked with Americans on their attitude about farmer payments in the wake of the COVID 19 gyrations.  The June 6-7 poll found 52% of 2,200 adults surveyed support payments given farmers, with 53% saying farmers have been affected “ a lot” by COVID 19.  Another 32% said they’re “somewhat supportive” of sending federal checks to farmers, with 23% saying there’s been at least some impact on crop and livestock producers. Just 6% opposed federal aid to producers.  Broadly, 59% said the government should treat agriculture and a stable food supply as a “matter of national security.”

The Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision this week nullifying Trump’s shutdown of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program created by President Obama, does not eternally enshrine the program in federal law, but basically says the White House messed up in how it went about shutting it down.  Trump failed to follow the Administrative Procedures Act (APA) and its requirements for public notice, public comments, etc.  No official word on whether the Trump administration will move to fix its mistakes and try again. The program is meant to protect nearly 800,000 undocumented immigrants from deportation.  These “Dreamers” were brought illegally to the U.S. as minor children by their parents.

On the trade front, one private analysis this week says China’s imports of U.S. ag products as part of its $36.5-billion “phase one” deal to end the U.S.-China tariff war have been “disappointing.”  And ahead of a full day of Capitol Hill House and Senate hearings on administration trade policy, more than 190 farm and agribusiness groups and companies sent a 13-page letter to the lawmakers urging Trump to give China a full opportunity to fulfill its pledge and not withdraw the U.S. from the agreement.   

This week, U.S. Special Trade Representative (USTR) Robert Lighthizer told the House Ways & Means Committee, and later the Senate Finance Committee , China has bought this year over $10 billion in soybeans – with a lot more likely sold before year’s end – as well as sorghum, cotton, pork and assorted other U.S. products.  He says China’s pledge will be honored. 

Lawmakers also hammered Trump’s chief trade negotiator over talks with the United Kingdom (UK) to create a bilateral trade deal in a post-Brexit Europe.  The UK wants to bar U.S. beef due to hormone use, and chicken because the U.S. permits antimicrobial “rinses.”  Lighthizer said the UK must abandon its position, calling allegations of unsafe U.S. foods “thinly veiled protectionism.”   And with the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) due to kick off July 1, Lighthizer pledged the Trump White House will “act early and often” if violations are discovered. He cited Mexico’s ongoing refusal to approve U.S. biotech varieties, and his office’s planned close monitoring of Canada’s implementation of increased access for U.S. dairy products.  Disputes will be filed; cases will be brought if violations are discovered., Lighthizer said.

The Senate Agriculture Committee is coming out of hibernation next week, holding its first hearing since COVID 19 quarantines emerged.  The panel will talk about farmers, ranchers and proposed carbon markets as Congress begins to take on climate change.  Also, on deck is debate in the Democrat-controlled House on federal infrastructure investment that includes climate change-related mandates.  Reports this week indicate a $1.5-trillion spending package to fix roads, bridges, airports and urban commuter systems, as well as invest more in rural broadband deployment and so-called “green initiatives,” is on deck. The bill could be voted on in September, says reports, putting pressure on the GOP-controlled Senate right before the election. 

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