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Legislative Agenda; Farm Policy; Biotech; Regulations; and, Climate

Legislative Agenda: Keystone, Budget- Immigration Link, and Trade

Ashley Parker and Jeremy W. Peters reported in today’s New York Times that, “As newly victorious and recently vanquished members of Congress descended Wednesday on Capitol Hill, defeated Democrats trudged in for some of their final votes, ebullient Republicans toured their new digs, and the denouement of Election Day continued to play out as the House and the Senate scheduled dueling votes to try to influence the outcome of the lone unresolved Senate race in Louisiana.

“But Wednesday’s activities — or lack thereof — after a six-week absence from the Capitol underscored how much inertia still rules. Despite larger fights over funding the government, operations in Syria, and executive action on immigration, the only votes in the Senate on Wednesday were procedural steps on a pair of federal court nominees.”

Today’s article noted that, “On one front, Congress was moving quickly as the House and Senate each planned votes on approval of the Keystone XL Pipeline. Senate Democrats hoped it would help save Senator Mary L. Landrieu of Louisiana in her runoff vote, while House Republicans were trying to boost her challenger, Representative Bill Cassidy. (The vote on Keystone could still end up as largely symbolic, as President Obama has made no commitment to sign the bill if it makes it to his desk)… [A]s leadership on both sides huddled over next steps, like whether to push through an omnibus spending bill to keep the government funded through next year or to settle for a short-term stopgap measure, the only lawmakers who seemed truly excited were those who were newly elected or moving chambers, from the House to the Senate.”

Carl Hulse reported in yesterday’s New York Times that, “Democrats want to use the remaining days of their majority to pass a governmentwide spending bill, advance nominations, consider a Pentagon policy bill and perhaps enact surveillance law changes. Republicans want to clear away much of the legislative underbrush and renew some tax breaks so they can have a clean start in January. The White House would also like to see government funding assured through next fall and to fill some of its executive and judicial branch vacancies.”

Mr. Hulse explained that, “Democrats are also watching to see if Senator Mitch McConnell, the Kentucky Republican and incoming majority leader, and Speaker John A. Boehner stick behind spending legislation that funds the government through Sept. 30 or if they bow to increasing demands from some lawmakers and conservative activists to fund the government on a short-term basis. The conservatives argue that Republicans should retain government funding as leverage against President Obama to deter him from his plan to reduce deportations of undocumented immigrants through an executive order.

Leaders of both parties and members of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees have made clear their preference for a spending package that extends through the fiscal year. Democrats will read any retreat as a sign that Mr. Boehner and Mr. McConnell remain unwilling to challenge Tea Party factions in the rank-and-file to strike compromises with Democrats.”

Lisa Mascaro reported in yesterday’s Los Angeles Times that, “Negotiators have been at work for months hammering out the details of a package that could keep the government running until the end of the fiscal year, Sept. 30.

“Spending levels were set by previous bipartisan budget accords, but some conservative lawmakers will resist sticking to that agreement when Republicans control Congress. They prefer a stopgap measure until the new Congress takes over.”

Also on the budget, Rebecca Shabad reported yesterday at The Hill Online that, “Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) said Wednesday Congress should pass a long-term spending bill that funds the government through September 2015.

“On MSNBC’s ‘The Daily Rundown,’ Cole was asked whether he would insist on the longer-term omnibus spending bill rather than a short-term extension.

“‘I think a short-term extension in my view is a mistake. I actually agree very much we should have a long-term bill. We should pass an omnibus spending bill similar to what the president’s requested that will give us stability through at least September 30th of next year,’ Cole said. ‘I think that’s an important thing.’”

With respect to immigration, and the potential link to budget issues, Laura Meckler and Kristina Peterson reported yesterday at The Wall Street Journal Online that, “A bloc of Republican lawmakers is seeking to use must-pass spending legislation in the final weeks of the year to place limits on President Barack Obama ’s ability to loosen immigration rules, threatening to split the party in Congress.

“Mr. Obama has said that he would act unilaterally by year’s end to change immigration policy, likely by giving many illegal immigrants new protections against deportation. Republicans and some Democrats have said Mr. Obama shouldn’t act without congressional approval.

“Now, some Republicans are pushing for Congress to make a move before Mr. Obama does. More than 50 House lawmakers have signed a letter saying that language barring the president from acting alone should be attached to legislation needed to keep the government operating after Dec. 11, when its current funding expires.”

The Journal article added that, “Some Republicans argue that if they cannot move a spending bill for the rest of the fiscal year with the immigration language attached, they should pass a short-term funding measure and revisit the matter early next year.”

Roll Call writer Emily Ethridge tweeted yesterday that, “Rep. [Matt] Salmon [R., Ariz.] is circulating a letter asking for an immigration rider on spending bill, but [Sen. Appropriations Chairwoman] ‪@SenatorBarb calls that a ‘dealbreaker.’”

Rebecca Shabad reported yesterday at The Hill Online that, “Republicans should push for a short-term bill funding the government to give them the option of blocking any executive order from President Obama on immigration, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) said Wednesday.

“Sessions, who may become the chairman of the Senate Budget Committee in January, wants to stop Obama’s promised executive action by withholding funds that would be meant for law enforcement officers to process people in the United States illegally into lawful status.

He argues a short-term funding bill, rather than an omnibus spending bill that would run through September 2015, would better position Republicans to block Obama.”

On the other hand, Mike Lillis reported yesterday at The Hill Online that, “Wary that President Obama might back away from vows to ease deportations unilaterally, House Democrats on Wednesday sought to hold the president’s feet to the fire.”

Seung Min Kim reported yesterday at Politico that, “The Congressional Progressive Caucus is laying out what it wants from President Barack Obama on immigration executive action, including shielding 7 million undocumented immigrants from deportation — a larger figure than the White House’s expected plans would cover.

“Democratic Reps. Raul Grijalva of Arizona and Keith Ellison of Minnesota say in a memo that Obama ‘should act swiftly and comprehensively. We should not force deserving individuals and families to wait any longer.’”

Meanwhile, Rachel Huggins reported yesterday at The Hill Online that, “President Obama plans to unveil a comprehensive immigration plan through executive action as early as next week, Fox News reported Wednesday.

“Citing a source close to the White House, Fox said Obama’s 10-part agenda was contained in a draft proposal from a U.S. government agency and could be announced as early as Nov. 21.

“The plan includes 10 initiatives — from boosting border security, improving pay for immigration officers and halting deportations for millions, Fox News reported.”

However, Steven Dennis reported yesterday at Roll Call Online that, “While Fox News has obtained documents purporting to show a possible 10-point plan for immigration executive action by President Barack Obama, the White House says the president hasn’t made a final decision on specifics yet.”

The Des Moines Register editorial board indicated yesterday that, “Though his [Pres. Obama] desire to address the problems with the nation’s immigration system is understandable, he should not act alone on this important issue.

Such action has the very real potential to undermine the public’s faith in our government, especially the idea that we are a nation where the Congress passes legislation that is then either signed or vetoed by the president. The United States is not a nation where the president is permitted to rule by edict, and Obama’s intention of acting unilaterally on immigration if Congress refuses could easily backfire.”

In trade news, Reuters writer Krista Hughes reported yesterday that, “U.S. businesses and industry groups urged Congress on Wednesday to give the White House authority to fast-track trade deals before the end of the year, saying it was a critical tool to complete major trade deals.

“In a letter to House and Senate leaders, a coalition of more than 200 industry groups and major companies said so-called trade promotion authority (TPA), which allows lawmakers to set priorities for trade deals in return for a yes-or-no vote, would help U.S. firms access global markets.”

However, Vicki Needham reported yesterday at The Hill Online that, “A trio of House Democrats said Wednesday that neither fast-track nor an Asia-Pacific trade deal have any chance of passing in the lame-duck session or in the next Congress.

“The lawmakers — Reps. Rosa DeLauro (Conn.), Louise Slaughter (N.Y.) and Alan Grayson (Fla.) — agreed that there aren’t enough votes in the House to pass trade promotion authority, which would pave the way for smooth approval of the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).”

Wall Street Journal writers Rajesh Roy and Carol E. Lee reported today that, “India and the U.S. have come to an agreement on India’s massive food stockpiling program, clearing the way for India to ratify an important World Trade Organization agreement aimed at facilitating trade.

“Indian Commerce Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said Thursday that a monthslong impasse at the World Trade Organization over India’s demand may be coming to an end as the U.S. has agreed to give India more freedom to subsidize and stockpile food to feed its citizens and support its farmers.”

A statement on this development from U.S Trade Representative Michael Froman is available here.

 

Farm Policy Issues

A news release yesterday from Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) stated that, “Senators [Feinstein], Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) today urged the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to issue a rule to increase data collection on the use of medically important antibiotics in agriculture and to work with veterinarians and industry to develop a plan to collect data on how antibiotics are used on farms.

“Currently, FDA does not have a complete picture of antibiotic use in agriculture. For example, data collected do not allow public health agencies to study trends in the use of antibiotics in different food-producing animal species.”

AP writer Jill Colvin reported yesterday that, “There are not that many pigs in his home state. But there are millions in the early presidential voting state of Iowa. And that’s making for a tough decision for Chris Christie, who is both New Jersey’s governor and a potential presidential candidate.

“Christie has until early December to decide whether to sign a bill that would ban pig farmers in the state from using devices called gestation crates, or metal cages, that are so small that pregnant pigs can’t turn around.”

Also, Wall Street Journal writer Jacob Bunge reported today that, “U.S. agricultural companies reached an agreement with farm groups on principles governing the companies’ use of crop data, a deal aimed at allaying privacy and information-security concerns as the Farm Belt embraces new technology.

“The first-of-its-kind accord, expected to be announced Thursday by the American Farm Bureau Federation, marks the biggest step yet by companies such as Monsanto Co. and Deere & Co. to quell farmers’ fears about the expanded use of data on specific fields in planting technology and other services sold to growers.”

A news release yesterday from National Crop Insurance Services indicated that, “Crop insurance policies must remain affordable for farmers and ranchers or the entire farm safety net will fail, crop insurance providers said today in a new educational video.

Farmers help fund current farm policy by spending approximately $4 billion a year out of their own pockets on crop insurance policies and by shouldering a portion of losses in the form of deductibles before receiving assistance.”

 

Biotech

Maria Armental reported yesterday at The Wall Street Journal Online that, “Monsanto Co. has agreed to pay $2.4 million to resolve a series of complaints over genetically modified soft white wheat, the company said Wednesday.

“Additional claims on other varieties of wheat are pending.

“Under the agreement, the St. Louis-based seed and pesticide maker, without admitting liability, is to put $2.1 million into a settlement fund to compensate farmers in Washington, Oregon and Idaho who sold soft white wheat between May 30 and Nov. 13, 2013, and an additional $250,000 to wheat growers’ associations, including the National Wheat Foundation, the Washington Association of Wheat Growers, the Oregon Wheat Growers’ League, and the Idaho Grain Producers’ Association.”

Meanwhile, Reuters news reported yesterday that, “Dow AgroSciences said on Wednesday it will restrict sales of its new genetically modified corn and soybeans to prevent them from entering U.S. domestic or international marketing channels as it awaits import approval from China.

“The move by the agricultural unit of Dow Chemical Co is aimed at avoiding the type of market turmoil that hit Sygenta AG and the U.S. grain industry when that company commercialized its own GMO corn without waiting for import approval from China.”

 

Regulations

Timothy Cama reported yesterday at The Hill Online that, “The Chamber of Commerce joined 374 business groups Wednesday in telling the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to withdraw its rule redefining its jurisdiction over ponds and streams.”

And a news release yesterday from the American Farm Bureau Federation noted that, “America’s young farmers and ranchers are speaking out on the devastating impact their new businesses will suffer under the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers’ proposed Waters of the U.S. rule, the American Farm Bureau Federation said.”

A news release yesterday from Sen. John Thune (R., S.D.) stated that, “[Sen. Thune] today launched a new interactive map on his website displaying South Dakota rivers, streams, wetlands, flood plains, and other waterways that could be under new federal regulation due to a proposed power-grab from the Obama administration.”

In other developments, Tim Devaney reported yesterday at The Hill Online that, “The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) is moving to protect the threatened Gunnison sage-grouse from extinction, the agency announced Wednesday.

“Distinct from the Greater sage-grouse, which is also being considered for protection, the smaller Gunnison sage-grouse is threatened by low numbers and a disparate population, the agency warned.”

Also yesterday, Commodity Futures Trading Commissioner J. Christopher Giancarlo issued a statement, which noted in part that, “I was invited to speak at the SEFCON V conference being hosted today by the Wholesale Markets Brokers’ Association, Americas (WMBAA). However, under Executive Order 13490, also known as President Obama’s Ethics Pledge, I am prohibited from speaking at SEFCON because of my past association with the WMBAA and because a fee is charged to attend the conference. I applied to the White House for a waiver to speak, but was denied, and I respect that decision. However, given the importance of the subject matter being discussed at SEFCON to the U.S. swaps market, if I had been permitted to speak at the conference, this is the speech I would have delivered.”

 

Climate

Laura Barron-Lopez reported yesterday at the Hill Online that, “Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) slammed President Obama for forging a pact with China to cut greenhouse gas emissions, calling the deal a ‘non-binding charade.”

“Inhofe, who is poised to take the helm of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee next year, said China cannot be expected to hold up its end of the bargain in the deal announced late Tuesday night.”

Newspaper editorial boards also provided perspective on the climate deal with China in today’s papers, including the following:

The New York Times– “…an enormously positive step in the uncertain battle against climate change.”

– the Los Angeles Times – “…studies estimate that the price of ignoring climate change — in the form of flood, drought, crop loss and so forth — is far higher than that of doing something about it.”

The Washington Post– “But more important than the details is the fact that China and the United States are finally leading on global warming, connecting the two largest pieces of an international climate puzzle that has been an ugly mess. Other nations will have confidence that they, too, will not be sacrificing in vain if and when they cut their emissions. Also, big developing countries, such as India, that have done too little should find it harder to avoid acting.”

The Wall Street Journal– “The climate-change campaign against fossil fuels has been having a hard time with democracy. Voters in the U.S. support fracking and the Keystone XL pipeline, Australia repealed its carbon tax, and frustration with green energy costs is rising across Europe. So perhaps it’s not surprising that President Obama has turned to a dictatorship for help with his anticarbon ambitions…[M]r. Xi must have been delighted to see a U.S. President agree to make America less economically competitive in return for rhetorical bows to doing something someday about climate change.”

Keith Good