Inside D.C.

This was the week that was!

When it comes to bad news, 2020 seems to be the year that can’t stop giving, and this past week delivered its share.  

The worst news came early Friday morning when President Trump tweeted news he and the First Lady had tested positive for COVID 19, with the White House later sharing the president’s symptoms are “mild” and that the first couple is self-quarantining in the White House.  Vice President Pence announced he and his wife have tested negative for COVID 19, but news reports indicate “contact tracing” is now underway focusing on anyone the president came in contact with this week at several political events, as well as folks around Washington, DC, including on Capitol Hill, who may have had contact with the Trump contacts.   

Earlier in the week was the first televised debate between Trump and former Vice President Biden, which can only be likened to a playground slap fight.  Little substance was offered, no insights gained, just 73 million Americans watching an enormously embarrassing public spectacle.

Judge Amy Coney Barrett, nominated by Trump to fill the vacant associate justice slot on the Supreme Court of the U.S. (SCOTUS), hit the Hill to meet with Senators prior to her formal confirmation hearings. This is normally a fairly civil exercise.  While the White House and Hill Republicans contend Barrett can all but walk on water, Democrats renewed their outrage that such nominations would be processed by the Senate during a presidential election year, with several Democrats refusing to meet with Barrett.  The same dire warnings that another conservative justice threatens the legal fate of Roe v. Wade, civil rights, Obamacare, etc. were issued, predictions made every time a conservative is nominated, none of which have come to pass since the first warnings were issued years ago.   Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R, KY) says there will be a vote on the Barrett nomination, and it will be before the November election.

The Senate approved just hours before the end of the federal fiscal year September 30, a continuing resolution (CR) blessed by the House last week to fund federal operations through December 11.  The president actually didn’t sign the bill until the wee hours of October 1, but scarcely anyone notice.  The action came after lawmakers locked up for 10 days over replenishing USDA’s Commodity Credit Corp. (CCC) emergency funding – wanted by Trump – and okaying $8 billion in new nutrition and food stamp assistance demanded by Democrats.  National ag groups heaved a collective sigh of relief as a government shutdown meant COVID 19 relief assistance shutdown as well.  

Then, while the COVID 19 pandemic rages, the U.S. economy staggers, businesses close and citizens are pushed to the economic brink, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D, CA) and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin continued their school yard game of chicken over spending, with no resolution. 

In May, the House approved the HEROES Act, a $3.4-trillion package of stimulus/aid spending – including about $30 billion in ag relief monies – on top of $4 trillion already approved and spent in three previous COVID-related stimulus bills.  McConnell nixed the House effort, saying a “phase four” bill with a price tag of $1 trillion was acceptable.  Pelosi eventually — nearly two months later — offered an alternative costing $2.4 trillion, also ignored by the Senate.  This week, she unveiled a $2.2-trillion package – a “skinny” HEROES Act – carrying aid for airlines, restaurants and small business, as well as an extension of federal unemployment assistance at $600 a week and a second round of $1,200-per-person government rebate payments.

The package includes $120 billion for restaurants and targeted ag aid.  Money to livestock producers who accept cash when selling animals, those who euthanized animals they couldn’t sell during packing plant shutdowns, and $1.25 billion for contract poultry and livestock producers are part of the package.  The dairy processing industry would get $500 million to process milk into products to be donated to food banks and nonprofits, and $500 million for a “recourse loan program” for processors and sellers, in the Democrat package.  There would also be dollars for biofuels refiners, cotton mills and $350 million for local marketers, including farmers markets.    

The two sides remain at loggerheads over several tax items, but the big hurdle is whether and how much should be spent on state and local government aid to replace lost tax revenues.  The Republicans are waving their budget hawk flag, knowing moderate Democrats demand of Pelosi something to campaign on when they get home. The GOP countered first with a $1.5-trillion compromise, later upping their ante to $1.6 trillion, including some state and local government aid.  

Ultimately, the full House approved the $2.2-trillion version of the HEROES Act on October 1, at least allowing the Democrats to tell voters they tried.  Unless there’s a miracle over the weekend, this means no new COVID economic stimulus bill until after the election, depending on that contest’s outcome.   Further, USDA confirmed this week farmers can expect no more trade war Market Facilitation Program (MFP) payments on top of COVID assistance.  “We have our exports that have been growing…and we see no need” for MFP, Deputy Secretary Steve Censky told Agri-Pulse at a Kansas City meeting this week.


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