Senate on Tuesday Set to Approve Tom Vilsack’s Return as USDA Secretary

Posted on 02/21/2021 11:05 AM

Hearings, markups, votes on other Biden nominees | Fed chairman to testify twice

 


Washington Focus


 

Democrats who control the House are preparing to approve the next Covid aid package by the end of this week, with the Senate aiming to soon follow with its own party-line vote before unemployment benefits are set to lapse in mid-March. On Friday, the House Budget Committee unveiled the nearly 600-page text (link) for the proposal.

 

     Democrats are moving their bill through Congress using a parliamentary process called reconciliation that will allow them to pass it with only Democratic votes. Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) have expressed objection to the minimum wage proposal contained in the package.

 

     CBO issues impact assessment of aid package. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) said the 10-year deficit impact of the Covid-19 relief reconciliation package as approved by nine House panels so far is $1.944 trillion, not counting off-budget revenue increases. If three additional House panels submit their recommendations at the maximum allowed in the budget resolution, it would bring the total to $1.956 trillion. That's above an overall limitation of $1.889 trillion, meaning offsets will need to be added or provisions scaled back.

 

     After the House passes the bill as expected, Senate Democrats plan to offer a substitute amendment that will likely make additional changes, including to further align the measure with the Senate rules and the fiscal 2021 budget resolution (SConRes 5). The package is limited to 20 hours of debate and another potentially exhausting "vote-a-rama."

 

    Biden takes on aid naysayers. “Critics say my plan is too big, that it costs $1.9 trillion dollars; that’s too much,” President Biden said at an event on Friday. “Let me ask them, what would they have me cut?”

 

     Background: The House bill includes another round of stimulus checks. Individuals making less than $75,000 will receive a $1,400 check. Couples earning less than $150,000 will receive a combined $2,800. As an individual or couple's income increases, their stimulus amount decreases. Of the $1.9 trillion, $350 billion will go towards states and local governments. Unemployment benefits will provide Americans with $400 a week on top of their state-issued benefits. Under this bill, the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) is replenished with $7 billion in additional funding. The Emergency Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) program will also receive $15 billion. In addition, the bill ups the child tax credit to $3,600 for children six and under. That credit drops to $3,000 for kids ages seven to 17. A controversial item is that the federal minimum wage — which currently sits at $7.25-an-hour — would increase to $15-an-hour over the next five years. The CBO released a report projecting that an estimated million people would be “lifted” out of poverty with an increase in the minimum wage, but the report also found that the change would result in the loss of 1.4 million jobs. The report also found that raising the minimum wage would increase the budget deficit by $54 billion and raise prices for goods and services.

 

     Ag and nutrition funding in the $1.9 trillion package:

  • Extends a 15% increase to monthly benefits under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) through Sept. 30. Created by the year-end spending and coronavirus response package, the increase is scheduled to lapse on June 30.
  • Provides $1.15 billion to states for SNAP administration, as well as $1 billion for grants for nutrition assistance programs in U.S. territories.
  • Provides $490 million to the Agriculture Department to increase the amount of the cash-value voucher provided under the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) to as much as $35 during the pandemic. Participating states could apply the increase for as long as four months after opting in. The increased authority for both states and the department would end on Sept. 30.
  • Provides $390 million to increase participation in WIC through outreach and program modernization.
  • Directs USDA to reimburse emergency shelters under the National School Lunch Program for meals provided to individuals younger than 25 who receive services there.
  • Extends the Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) program, established by the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, through any school year or summer period following an academic year during a designated public health emergency. The program, which allows for food aid to be provided to families during school closures, had been limited to fiscal 2020 and 2021 and to school year 2020-2021. It would also include Puerto Rico, American Samoa, and the Northern Mariana Islands in the program.

     Other USDA Programs:

  • Appropriates $4 billion to USDA to purchase and distribute food and agricultural commodities and to make grants and loans to small and midsized food processors and distributors. From that total, the department would use:

         $300 million for monitoring and surveillance of animals susceptible to Covid-19 transmission.

         $100 million to reduce amount of overtime meat, poultry, and egg inspection costs at small establishments.

  • Provides $500 million for a USDA emergency pilot grant program, supporting organizations providing Covid-19-related services in low-income rural areas.
  • Appropriates such sums as may be necessary for loan modifications and payments to address “longstanding and widespread discrimination against socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers” in USDA programs.
  • Provides $1.01 billion for grants and loans to improve land access for socially disadvantaged farmers, ranchers, and forest landowners, as well as scholarships, outreach, financial training, and other technical assistance.
  • Provides $800 million for Food for Peace grants.

Manchin puts Biden's OMB nominee chances in doubt. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) said Friday he would oppose President Joe Biden’s choice for White House budget director in a decision that could imperil Neera Tanden's confirmation in a 50-50 Senate. Manchin said he could not support because of her history of making incendiary comments about Republican senators and Senate Budget Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).

 

     Tanden would need the support of at least one Republican senator in order to be confirmed, with the vote of Vice President Kamala Harris needed to break a tie.

 

     The two Senate panels with jurisdiction over OMB nominees, Budget and Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, have scheduled votes on Tanden for this Wednesday. Under Senate rules, only one panel is required to report her nomination to the floor; the other is automatically discharged after 30 days if it hasn't acted. Manchin isn't a member of either panel that's scheduled to meet this week

 

     Biden told reporters on Friday that he did not plan to withdraw her nomination. “I think we are going to find the votes and get her confirmed,” he said. Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, reiterated that position in a statement: “Neera Tanden is an accomplished policy expert who would be an excellent budget director and we look forward to the committee votes next week and to continuing to work toward her confirmation through engagement with both parties.”

 

The Senate this week will vote to confirm several Cabinet nominees, including Linda Thomas-Greenfield, President Joe Biden’s nominee for U.S. ambassador to the United Nations; on Tuesday, USDA secretary nominee Tom Vilsack; and on Thursday, nominee Katherine Tai to be the USTR (hearing and possible vote).

 

     Other nominees who’ve made it out of committee but are waiting on floor votes include: Michael Regan, Biden’s nominee for Environmental Protection Agency administrator; Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio), nominated as Housing and Urban Development secretary; Jennifer Granholm, Biden’s Energy secretary nominee; Gina Raimondo, Commerce secretary nominee; Miguel Cardona, his Education secretary nominee; and Marty Walsh, his Labor secretary nominee.

 

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and President Joe Biden will meet virtually on Tuesday, following up on a phone call the leaders had days after Biden’s inauguration. The meeting will focus on ending the coronavirus pandemic, growing the middle class, job creation and fighting climate change, Trudeau said in a tweet. They’ll also discuss maintaining strong supply chains between the two countries and defense and security topics, Trudeau’s office said in a release.

 


Hearings and Events This Week


 

Monday, Feb. 22

  • National Association of State Departments of Agriculture winter policy conference, through Thursday.
  • Nomination hearing: Attorney general. Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the nomination of Merrick Garland to be attorney general.
  • Budget reconciliation. House Budget Committee, full panel markup.

Tuesday, Feb. 23

  • Nomination hearing: Interior secretary. Senate Energy and Commerce Committee hearing to consider Deb Haaland’s nomination as Interior secretary.
  • Nomination hearing: Attorney general. Senate Judiciary Committee continues hearing on Garland nomination.
  • Nomination hearing: deputy Treasury secretary. Senate Finance Committee hearing on the nomination of Adewale O. Adeyemo to be deputy Treasury secretary.
  • Wastewater infrastructure. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee hearing on “The Urgent Need for Investment in America’s Wastewater Infrastructure.”
  • Climate change and social responsibility. House Financial Services Committee will hold a hearing titled “Climate Change and Social Responsibility: Helping Corporate Boards and Investors Make Decisions for a Sustainable World.”
  • IRS oversight. House Appropriations Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government hearing.
  • Expanding Covid-19 vaccine availability. House Energy and Commerce — Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations hearing.
  • Federal Reserve monetary policy report. Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee hearing. Witness: Fed Chairman Jerome Powell.

Wednesday, Feb. 24

  • Nomination markup: OMB. Senate Budget Committee markup to vote on the nomination of Neera Tanden to be director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).
  • Nomination hearing: CIA. Senate Select Intelligence Committee hearing on the nomination of William Burns to be director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).
  • Nomination markup: SBA. Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee markup to vote on the nomination of Isabella Casillas Guzman to be administrator of the Small Business Administration (SBA).
  • Nomination hearing: HHS. Senate Finance Committee hearing on the nomination of Xavier Becerra to be Health and Human Services (HHS) secretary.
  • Transportation and climate change. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing titled “Building Back Better: Investing in Transportation while Addressing Climate Change, Improving Equity, and Fostering Economic Growth and Innovation.”
  • Covid-19 pandemic one year later. House Homeland Security Committee hearing.
  • Monetary policy/state of the economy. House Financial Services Committee hearing. Virtual witness: Fed Chairman Jerome Powell.
  • Public health infrastructure. House Appropriations — Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies hearing. ring
  • Raising the minimum wage. House Small Business — Subcommittee on Oversight, Investigations, and Regulations hearing.
  • Lending discrimination for borrowers of color. House Financial Services — Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations hearing.

Thursday, Feb. 25

  • Climate change: ag and forestry. House Agriculture Committee hearing on climate change and the U.S. agriculture and forestry sectors.
  • Energy and climate innovation. House Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on strategies for energy and climate innovation.
  • Climate change/capital markets/sustainable investment. House Financial Services — Subcommittee on Investor Protection, Entrepreneurship and Capital Markets hearing.
  • USDA inspector general oversight. House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee hearing.
  • Coronavirus/rebuilding main street. Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee hearing.
  • Nomination hearing: U.S. trade representative (USTR). Senate Finance Committee hearing on the nomination of Katharine Tai to be USTR.
  • Covid Impacts/recovery. House Science, Space and Technology Committee hearing.
  • Capitol police/House Sergeant at Arms security failures. House Appropriations — Subcommittee on Legislative Branch hearing.
  • Modernizing antitrust law. House Judiciary — Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial and Administrative Law.
  • Poverty wages paid at large corporations. Senate Budget Committee hearing.

Friday, Feb. 26

  • Path forward on Covid-19 immunizations. House Ways and Means —Subcommittee on Health hearing.

Economic Reports for the Week


 

Economic data out this week includes the Conference Board's leading economic index for January on Monday and the Bureau of Economic Analysis' personal income and spending figures for January on Friday. There will also be a pair of notable housing-market indicators: the Census Bureau's new-home sales for January on Wednesday and the National Association of Realtors' pending home sales index for January on Thursday. Meanwhile, Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell’s testimony before the Senate (Tuesday) and House (Wednesday) will be a key focus to see how monetary policy is set to develop.

 

Monday, Feb. 22

  • Conference Board Leading Economic index for January. Consensus estimate is for a 0.3% month-over-month increase, matching the December gain. The index has risen every month since this past April, but the rate of growth slowed markedly in the final months of 2020.
  • Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas Texas Manufacturing Outlook Survey for February. Consensus estimate is for a 10 reading, above January’s seven figure. Any number above zero indicates that the region’s manufacturing sector is growing.
  • Chicago Fed National Activity Index

Tuesday, Feb. 23

  • Case-Shiller Home Price Index
  • FHFA House Price Index
  • Consumer Confidence
  • Richmond Fed Manufacturing Index
  • Fed Chairman Jerome Powell testifies before Senate panel

Wednesday, Feb. 24

  • MBA Mortgage Applications
  • Census Bureau new-home sales for January. Expectations are for a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 850,000 homes sold, slightly higher than December’s figure. New-home sales, while still strong, are off their post-financial-crisis peak of nearly a million set last July.
  • Fed Chairman Jerome Powell testifies before House panel

Thursday, Feb. 25

  • Jobless Claims
  • Durable Goods Orders
  • Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) second estimate for fourth-quarter gross domestic product. Economists forecast a seasonally adjusted annual growth rate of 4%, unchanged from the advance estimate reported in late January.
  • National Association of Realtors releases its Pending Home Sales index for January. Consensus estimate is for a 1.5% month-over-month decline. Pending home sales have fallen for four consecutive months.
  • Kansas City Fed Manufacturing Index
  • Fed Balance Sheet
  • Money Supply

Friday, Feb. 26

  • BEA personal income and spending for January. Expectations are for a 9.9% monthly gain in income, after a 0.6% rise in December. Consumption is seen rising 2.3%, after declining 0.2% previously.
  • International Trade in Goods (Advance)
  • Retail Inventories (Advance)
  • Wholesale Inventories (Advance)
  • Chicago PMI
  • Consumer Sentiment

Key USDA & international Ag & Energy Reports and Events 


 

Monday, Feb. 22
 

     Ag reports and events:

  • Export Inspections
  • Poultry Slaughter
  • EU weekly grain, oilseed import and export data
  • MARS crop bulletin

     Energy reports and events:

  • S&P Global Platts Virtual London Energy Forum 2021
  • Holiday: Russia

Tuesday, Feb. 23
 

     Ag reports and events:

  • Fruit and Tree Nut Data
  • Vegetables and Pulses Data
  • State Stories
  • Cold Storage
  • Milk Production
  • U.K. National Farmers Union virtual annual conference to discuss the future of agriculture, horticulture

     Energy reports and events:

  • API weekly U.S. oil inventory report
  • International Petroleum (IP) Week, held virtually, with official conference program run by Energy Institute lasting Feb. 23-25. First day speakers include Total CEO Patrick Pouyanne
  • Holiday: Japan, Russia

Wednesday, Feb. 24
 

     Ag reports and events:

  • Broiler Hatchery
  • MPOB palm oil prices seminar

     Energy reports and events:

  • EIA weekly U.S. oil inventory report
  • U.S. weekly ethanol inventories
  • IP Week, day 2 of 3; speakers include BP CEO Bernard Looney, Equinor CEO Anders Opedal

Thursday, Feb. 25
 

     Ag reports and events:

  • Weekly Export Sales
  • Food Price Outlook
  • Agricultural Exchange Rate Data Set
  • County Estimates: Corn, Soybeans, Sunflowers, Sorghum
  • Chickens and Eggs, Annual
  • Crop Values
  • Egg Products
  • Livestock Slaughter
  • Trout Production
  • Port of Rouen data on French grain exports
  • International Grains Council monthly report
  • Malaysia’s Feb. 1-25 palm oil export data

     Energy reports and events:

  • EIA natural gas storage change
  • IP Week, last day
  • Russian weekly refinery outage data from ministry
  • Insights Global weekly oil product inventories in Europe’s ARA region
  • Holiday: Kuwait

Friday, Feb. 26
 

     Ag reports and events:

  • CFTC Commitments of Traders report
  • Peanut Prices
  • Agricultural Prices
  • Chickens and Eggs
  • Cold Storage, Annual
  • Peanut Stocks and Processing
  • Poultry Slaughter, Annual
  • Holiday: Thailand

     Energy reports and events:

  • Baker Hughes weekly U.S. oil/gas rig counts
  • EIA Petroleum Supply Monthly

 

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