Justin Sink reported yesterday at The Hill Online that, “President Obama on Tuesday signed the continuing resolution that will keep the government funded through the end of the fiscal year, averting a government shutdown.
“The six-month stopgap measure will keep government agencies funded through Sept. 30, maintaining funding at $984 billion. The bill cleared the House last Thursday in a 318-109 vote.”
The Hill article explained that, “The funding measure includes spending cuts that were part of the sequester — $85 billion in across-the-board cuts implemented earlier this month after lawmakers failed to reach a budget deal.
“Earlier Tuesday, White House press secretary Jay Carney said that the president’s plans to sign the continuing resolution should not be interpreted in any way as an endorsement of the sequester cuts.”
Bloomberg writers Roger Runningen and Brian Faler reported yesterday that, “Congress mandated $1.2 trillion in across-the-board spending cuts spread over nine years — the sequestration proviso — as part of a 2011 deal to increase the U.S. debt limit. The cuts are intended to shrink the federal budget deficit, which has exceeded $1 trillion in each of the past four years…[T]he measure Obama signed today leaves intact $85 billion in across-the-board budget cuts for this fiscal year of 5 percent to domestic agencies and 8 percent for the Defense Department. It includes authority for some leeway to shift funds.
“Partisan bickering over debts, spending and taxes for fiscal 2014, beginning Oct. 1, will resume after Congress returns from a two-week break. For now, supporters of the automatic cuts say they see victory.”
In related budget news, Erik Wasson reported yesterday at The Hill’s On the Money Blog that, “The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said Tuesday that Washington has now cut discretionary spending below pre-recession levels.
“CBO found that base discretionary spending was 6.4 percent of gross domestic product in 2007, and that with the passage last week of legislation finalizing 2013 spending, is now at 6.2 percent of the economy.”
Mr. Wasson noted that, “The CBO figures could allow Republicans to take credit for affecting change in Washington and shrinking government, while allowing Democrats to argue that the focus should now be on revenue and not on cutting agency funding.
“The CBO numbers do not reflect entitlement spending, which is expected to rise exponentially in the coming decades as the population ages and medical cost inflation continues.”
Meanwhile, in an update earlier this week at The Hill Online, Mr. Wasson reported that, “House and Senate budget leaders face a new mission impossible: reconciling their wildly different blueprints.
“The Senate’s passage of a budget for the first time in four years sets the stage for leaders to name conferees to negotiate a compromise measure. A reconciled budget resolution would then be put before the full House and Senate for votes.”
The Hill article added that, “Experts say the two [Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio)] may wait until President Obama delivers his delayed budget in early April. With a hike to the debt ceiling scheduled for summer, Obama is set to push for another ‘grand bargain’ on deficit reduction this summer.
“A budget reconciliation bill could be used as the vehicle for such a deal because the Senate budget contains reconciliation instructions that a conference committee could rewrite.
“If Obama and House and Senate leaders agreed on a grand deal cutting entitlements and raising taxes, the budget reconciliation instructions would protect that package from a filibuster.”
Ben Goad reported yesterday at The Hill’s RegWatch Blog that, “The Obama administration is preparing to unveil regulations for a grant program designed to attack the obesity epidemic among low-income Americans.
“The White House has completed its review of draft rules for the Nutrition Education and Obesity Prevention Grant Program, according to records kept by the Office of Management and Budget.”
The article noted that, “The program would authorize grants to states that follow specific dietary guidelines seen as promoting ‘healthy food choices,’ according to a notice describing the new regulations.
“Participants in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) – also known as food stamps – would be served by the grants, along with children that partake in the National School Lunch Program and individuals in low-income communities.”
Mr. Goad explained that, “It lists the rule as economically significant, meaning it would cost more than $100 million, but does not estimate the overall expense of the program to taxpayers. The program would rely entirely on federal dollars, with no state-matching requirement.
“It was not clear Tuesday when the final rule would be issued.”
Meanwhile, a news release yesterday from USDA stated that, “Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced that the U.S. Department of Agriculture will launch its ‘StrikeForce’ initiative in 10 additional states, including South Carolina. The primary goal of the StrikeForce initiative is to increase partnership with rural communities and leverage community resources in targeted, persistent poverty areas. Vilsack noted that through the StrikeForce initiative, USDA will do more to partner with local and state governments and community organizations on projects that promote economic development and job creation.”
With respect to the legislative branch, Adam D. Young, in a report this week at the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal Online, included a “Q and A” with Rep. Randy Neugebauer (R., Tex.) which noted in part that: “What are your goals as the House and Senate look to reconcile the differing budgets each chamber passed earlier this month?
“Neugebauer: ‘My guess is, and it remains to be seen, that there will be a conference committee that will be put together to see if there can be some reconciliation there. My guess is, they’re so far apart — the Democrats want to raise taxes and we want to cut spending — that I’m not sure whether there’s any common ground there or not. That will be something the leadership will have to make that decision … To me, the essential elements are that we need to quit spending money that we don’t have.’
“Q: As a member of the House Committee on Agriculture, what are your plans to introduce a five-year farm bill after the House opted not to vote on a farm bill in 2012?
“Neugebauer: ‘I’m hopeful that we’ll bring the farm bill to the Agriculture Committee in April or May and get it passed out of committee so that we’ve got it ready to go to the House floor. And I’m certainly going to encourage House leadership to bring that bill to the floor, because we owe the farmers and ranchers and producers in this country a five-year farm bill to give them some certainty in what the farm policy in this country is going to be for awhile.’”
And a news release Monday from Sen. Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) indicated that, “Today, at Eastern View Nursery & Dutchess Hops in Lagrangeville, [Sen. Schumer] joined local Dutchess County hops farmers to help provide federal backing for New York’s first major commercial ‘hop yard’ in Dutchess County. Specifically, Schumer urged the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Small Business Administration to provide critical financing for the equipment needed to establish a cooperative of Hudson Valley hops farmers and craft breweries, that will produce locally grown, organic hops to better meet the growing demand from New York’s thriving craft breweries.”
Agricultural Economy- Trade
DTN Ag Meteorologist Bryce Anderson indicated yesterday (link requires subscription) that, “A year ago, record-high temperatures and dry soils had corn growers running planters by mid-March. There’s a sharp contrast in 2013: Daytime temperatures running 20 degrees Fahrenheit below normal have made March seem like a displaced version of January.
“There’s no March corn planting in the Midwest this year.
“Even precipitation from powerful snowstorms in late February and March has not led to a meaningful rebound from last summer’s drought. For the Western Corn Belt, this spring presents a cold pattern with widely varied precipitation, certainly not enough to recharge soil moisture.”
Nancy Gaarder reported yesterday at the Omaha World-Herald Online that, “As Nebraska heads into a second year of drought, agriculture and climate experts say conditions will deteriorate more rapidly this year than last year if hot, dry weather hits before substantial rains fall…[M]ark Svoboda, a climatologist with the National Drought Mitigation Center, said the state is poised for another tough year because the 2012 drought depleted soil moisture and lowered reservoirs and streams.
“Even normal rains won’t be enough to avert problems, Svoboda said, because the soil is simply too dry to recover to the point that it can sustain thirsty crops through hot summer weather.”
A recent quarterly update for the Central Region from the National Climate Data Center noted that, “Most of the Plains remains in severe to exceptional drought going into the spring. While February storms did bring significant precipitation to Kansas, western Nebraska, and the eastern Dakotas the precipitation provided only short-term relief. Drought conditions in the High Plains Region changed little this winter, although some areas improved. At the end of the winter 91 percent of the region was still in moderate to exceptional drought. This is down only slightly since the beginning of winter, when 93 percent was in that range of designations.”
And Felicity Barringer reported in today’s New York Times that, “The drought-fueled anger of southeastern New Mexico’s farmers and ranchers is boiling, and there is nowhere near enough water in the desiccated Pecos River to cool it down. Roswell, about 75 miles to the north, has somewhat more water available and so is the focus of intense resentment here. [Ronnie Walterscheid, 53] and others believe that Roswell’s artesian wells reduce Carlsbad’s surface water.
“For decades, the regional status quo meant the northerners pumped groundwater and the southerners piped surface water. Now, amid the worst drought on record, some in Carlsbad say they must upend the status quo to survive. They want to make what is known as a priority call on the Pecos River.
“A priority call, an exceedingly rare maneuver, is the nuclear option in the world of water. Such a call would try to force the state to return to what had been the basic principle of water distribution in the West: the lands whose owners first used the water — in most cases farmland — get first call on it in times of scarcity. Big industries can be losers; small farmers winners.”
Meanwhile, Reuters writers Hugh Bronstein and Karl Plume reported yesterday that, “The first shipment of Argentine corn to the United States this year is on its way with more to follow, marking an increase in orders from the South American country to the world’s top corn producer as it recovers from drought, traders said on Tuesday…[L]ast year’s U.S. drought slashed U.S. supplies and kept corn prices historically high this season. Buyers are looking for affordable alternatives and Argentine corn is relatively cheap.”
Yesterday’s article explained that, “The United States last year had its worst drought in more than a half century, tightening global grain stocks and raising fears of a world food crisis should the extreme weather suffered in producing countries over recent years continue.
“Benchmark Chicago corn futures have risen about 13 percent since January because of drought-reduced U.S. supplies, making Argentine corn a relatively attractive alternative.”
More broadly, Heba Saleh and Emiko Terazono reported yesterday at The Financial Times Online that, “Egypt is demanding a better deal from its wheat suppliers as the Islamist government struggles to replenish falling stocks of its key food source.
“The country, the world’s biggest wheat importer, is suffering from a severe foreign currency crunch that has forced the state to slash its international purchases and risk running down its strategic wheat reserves in anticipation of a good domestic harvest.”
The FT article added that, “‘[We will buy from] whoever gives us payment facilities and treats Egypt like a major country in the region,’ said Bassem Ouda, the minister of supply, in an interview with the Financial Times.
“‘Whoever does not help Egypt through the current difficult period, we are not prepared to help them market their products. We expect our friends in the US and Europe to give us easy terms against our buying their wheat.’”
In other news, an update yesterday at National Hog Farmer Online stated that, “A coalition of food and agricultural organizations and companies today urged the United States and other countries in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations to quickly welcome Japan into the trade talks…[I]n a letter sent today to President Obama, the coalition of 75 food and agricultural organizations and companies said the inclusion of Japan in the trade talks would generate enormous interest and support in U.S. agriculture.”
And a news release yesterday from the Senate Finance Committee stated that, “To promote competitiveness and protect U.S. intellectual property rights (IPR), Senate Finance Committee Ranking Member Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) today announced, the Innovation Through Trade Act, legislation to create a Chief Innovation and Intellectual Property Negotiator in the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) to help guarantee strong IP standards are upheld and enforced with global trading partners.”
Also, Andrew Pollack reported in today’s New York Times that, “Monsanto and DuPont, which have bitterly battled for dominance in the seed business, have settled their major disputes with a broad patent-licensing deal.
“Under the terms of the agreement, announced Tuesday, DuPont will pay Monsanto at least $1.75 billion over 10 years for the rights to technology for genetically engineered soybeans that are resistant to herbicides.”
Justin Sink reported yesterday at The Hill Online that, “White House press secretary Jay Carney on Tuesday refused to say whether linking a pathway to citizenship to border security metrics would be a deal breaker for the White House, hours after Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said she did not think such a provision should be included in a final immigration deal.
“‘Progress is being made. It’s being made in the Senate which is where the Senate hoped it would be made. And we are very much monitoring that process and engaging in that process, but it’s not done yet and I don’t want to prejudge a bill that hasn’t been written,’ Carney said.”
And Humberto Sanchez reported yesterday at Roll Call Online that, “Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., cautioned Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., against undermining the panel’s process as it seeks to take up a comprehensive immigration overhaul.
“Leahy expressed his warning in a letter, obtained by CQ Roll Call. It is addressed to Sessions and dated March 21. The letter appears to be a response to a March 19 letter written by Sessions and five other Republicans, who raised concerns that the committee would not have enough debate time when it considers an immigration overhaul next month.”