Big Divisive Racial Equity Issue During House Ag Panel Markup of Covid Aid Proposal

Posted on 02/11/2021 7:23 AM

Biden talks to Chinese leader Xi | Biden postpones budget release | NCC cotton survey

 


In Today’s Digital Newspaper


 

Market Focus:
• Fed chairman: U.S. job market remains a long way from full recovery
• Chinese Lunar New Year holiday began today
• Amsterdam surpasses London as Europe’s trading hub
• Biden’s first budget proposal delayed

• Consumer Price Index up less than expected in January
• U.S. budget deficit widened last month
• U.S. oil demand recovered last week
• Bitcoin up 2.4% this morning
• NCC survey indicates U.S. 2021 cotton plantings will total 11.5 mil. ac.
• What is up with USDA revisions to quarterly stock estimate for corn?
* Dry-bulk carriers benefiting from surge in U.S. soybean exports to China
• Poultry exports surged in 2020
• Propane prices have climbed more than 70% since late November
• Ag demand update
• Argentine gov’t: won’t use export taxes or quotas to curb inflation
• Argentina to see some crop stress over next week, but critically dry conditions unlikely
• Ukraine’s barley exports have tripled 2019-20’s total, with China aggressive buyer
• Consultancy hikes soft wheat and barley export forecasts for the EU + Britain
• Brazil’s Aurora planning major increase in chicken processing

 

Policy Focus:
• Rep. Thompson asks Dems why they turned partisan in latest ag aid measure
• Ag
reconciliation measure cleared on partisan vote
• Major divisive issue in House Ag Committee re: payments to minority producers
• Legislative proposal would significantly boost CCC borrowing authority
• Other updates on coming Covid-19 aid package

 

Biden Administration Personnel

• White House officials back Lisa Cook for Fed

 

China Update:
• Biden has first call with Xi Jinping since taking office
• Biden launches review of the U.S. strategy for China
Solid bookings of U.S. soybeans, upland cotton for 2020-21 continue by China
Reports out of China that they allegedly found Covid in a shipment of U.S. pork; details awaited
• China’s birth rate fell by 14.9% between 2019 and 2020
• China has more teleworkers than U.S. has citizens
• WSJ: China detains Tencent executive in corruption probe
• Simmons disappears from list of firms ineligible to export to China

 

Energy & Climate Change:

• EPA pick Regan continues to assure lawmakers of looking at all options on policy
• Manchin urges Biden to reconsider pipeline ban decision
• Ford EV F-150 battery supplier court loses fight


Coronavirus Update:
• Possible early Covid cases in China emerge in WHO probe
• Double masking can help reduce coronavirus exposure: CDC report
• CVS and Walmart decide who gets leftover Covid-19 vaccine doses
• Instagram bans Robert F. Kennedy Jr.
• Chinese vaccine makers racing to meet needs of China and other countries,
• Another remote-work year looms as office-reopening plans delayed

 

Politics & Elections:
• Dems to finish presenting case on third day of impeachment trial
• 47 House Democrats are on GOP target list for 2022
• Ballotpedia takes early look at 2022 Senate elections 


Other Items of Note:
• Vilsack to discuss hunger next Wed. at National Press Foundation   
• White House meeting this morning with senators on infrastructure
• Biden administration asks Supreme Court to save ObamaCare
• Business groups seek reversal of ban on most forms of legal immigration due to Covid
• Iran starts producing uranium metal, banned under the 2015 nuclear accords
• Japan's Olympic chief to quit after sexist remarks

 

Remembering:

• Alex Barbarika, a CRP expert and USDA economist, dies following fire
 


MARKET FOCUS


 

Equities today: U.S. stock futures edged higher. In Asia, Hong Kong’s Hang Seng rose almost 0.5% by the close of trading, and Australia’s benchmark S&P/ASX 200 ticked 0.1% lower. The Japanese, Chinese and South Korean markets were closed for a holiday. The Chinese Lunar New Year holiday began today and markets in mainland China will be closed the next several days.

 

     U.S. equities yesterday: The Dow gained 61.97 points, 0.20%, at 31,427.80. The Nasdaq declined 35.16 points, 0.25%, at 13,972.53. The S&P 500 eased 1.35 points, 0.03%, at 3,909.88.

 

     With nearly 70% of the S&P 500 already reporting fourth-quarter earnings, profits for the group are up 5.1%, better than an expected contraction of 9.2%, according to FactSet. That is also a vast improvement from the third quarter’s 5.6% profit contraction. First-quarter earnings are expected to rise 21%.

 

     Amsterdam surpasses London as Europe’s trading hub. Shares worth roughly 9.2 billion euros ($11.2 billion) were traded on Dutch markets last month, beating the €8.6 billion traded on London exchanges. That shift is a clear sign of how financial markets are being remade after Brexit.

 

On tap today:

 

     •  U.S. jobless claims are expected to fall to 760,000 in the week ending Feb. 6 from 779,000 a week earlier. Follow our coverage here. (8:30 a.m. ET)
     • USDA Export Sales report, 8:30 a.m. ET
     • Congressional Budget Office releases its budget and economic outlook projections for 2021-2031 at 2 p.m. ET.

 

President Biden’s first budget proposal will be delayed, the White House said, citing a lack of cooperation during the transition from budget staff.

 

Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said the central bank will continue to bolster the economy with low interest rates and hefty asset purchases as it focuses on the strength of the labor market. The Fed is unlikely to “even think about withdrawing policy support” by raising rates or reducing its bond purchases for the foreseeable future, Powell said at a virtual appearance Wednesday before the Economic Club of New York. The Fed chief also repeated his call for more fiscal assistance for the economy, saying that monetary policy alone won’t be enough to restore the labor market to full strength. “It will require a society-wide commitment, with contributions from across government and the private sector,” Powell said. “Workers and households who struggle to find their place in the post-pandemic economy are likely to need continued support,” he said. “The same is true for many small businesses that are likely to prosper again once the pandemic is behind us.”

 

     Powell also said that providing too much support to an economy buffeted by risks and uncertainties is preferable to doing too little. “Since the onset of the pandemic, we have been concerned about its longer-term effects on the labor market,” he said. “Extended periods of unemployment can inflict persistent damage on lives and livelihoods while also eroding the productive capacity of the economy. And we know from the previous expansion that it can take many years to reverse the damage.”

 

     On inflation: “Inflation dynamics will evolve, but it’s hard to make the case why they would evolve very suddenly.”

 

     On the labor market: “Published unemployment rates during Covid have dramatically understated the deterioration in the labor market.”

 

Consumer Price Index up less than expected in January.  The Labor Department on Wednesday said the Consumer Price Index rose 0.3% in January and 1.4% year-on-year. Economists had expected increases of 0.3% and 1.5%, respectively. Core CPI, which excludes volatile food and energy prices, was unchanged for the month and rose 1.4% from the previous year, less than forecasts for 0.2% and 1.6% increases.

 

U.S. budget deficit widened last month. The U.S. budget gap totaled a record $736 billion during the first four months of fiscal 2021, an 89% increase from a year earlier, the Treasury Department said. Receipts totaled nearly $1.2 trillion, a 1% rise and a record from October through January, while outlays increased a record 23%, to $1.9 trillion, largely due to higher spending on safety-net programs such as jobless benefits and Medicaid. For the 12 months that ended in January, the deficit totaled $3.47 trillion, or 16.2% as a share of economic output.

 

     Federal spending

 

Market perspectives:

 

     • Outside markets: The U.S. dollar index is trading slightly higher. Nymex crude oil futures prices are weaker and trading around $58.30 a barrel. The benchmark 10-year U.S. Treasury note yield is currently fetching 1.135%.


     • Brent crude on Wednesday reached its highest settle value in more than a year when it nudged up 0.6% to $61.47 a barrel. The move also marked its longest winning streak in more than two years, having risen for nine straight sessions.

 

     • Crude oil futures are under moderate pressure ahead of the U.S. trading start in part on a rise in gasoline inventories in U.S. gov’t inventory data released Wednesday. U.S. crude was trading around $58.30 per barrel and Brent trading around $61 per barrel. Crude oil futures were under pressure in Asian action, with U.S. crude down 34 cents at $58.34 per barrel and Brent down 37 cents at $61.10 per barrel.

 

     • U.S. oil demand recovered last week to 20.18 million barrels per day from 18.53 million barrels p/d the previous week, the Energy Information Administration reported. Jet fuel consumption rose the most, while motor gasoline and diesel saw slight upticks. EIA also reported a major draw of 6.6 million barrels of crude from storage, reducing the glut in the market and leading to oil prices rising this morning. Brent crude, the international benchmark, is now over $60 per barrel.

 

     • Bitcoin is up 2.4% this morning, after Mastercard and Twitter both signaled interest in the cryptocurrency. Meanwhile, the Bank of New York Mellon said it will hold, transfer and issue bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies on behalf of its asset-management clients.

 

     • NCC survey indicates U.S. 2021 cotton plantings will total 11.5 mil. acres. National Cotton Council’s (NCC) 40th annual planting survey showed that U.S. producers intend to sow 11.5 million acres in 2021, down 5.2% from 2020. The state-by-state results will be revealed this morning. The survey was completed at the start of January. Since then, prices have climbed. The NCC estimate compares to the 2021 Cotton Grower Acreage Survey projection of 11.61 million total cotton acres. Those survey results were released in January.

 

    • FarmDoc asks: What is up with USDA revisions to quarterly stock estimate for corn? Link to their discussion.

 

     • Dry-bulk carriers are benefiting from a surge in U.S. soybean exports to China. (Lloyd’s List link)

 

     • Poultry exports surged in 2020. The industry last year saw record sales to major markets like China and Mexico, helping offset the financial losses for producers affected by U.S. supply chain disruptions, the USA Poultry & Egg Export Council said Wednesday in a press release. Sales of broiler chickens to China totaled almost $732 million, smashing the previous record set in 2008, as the Chinese economy rebounded rapidly from the pandemic. Chinese consumers also leaned more heavily on foreign protein in lieu of domestic pork products, after Chinese producers were decimated by African swine fever. Overall, the volume of broiler exports in 2020 was up 5.2% from 2019, while egg exports grew 9.3% by volume.

 

     • Propane prices have climbed more than 70% since late November, thanks to an explosion in patio heating and an uptick in exports to Asia. Now, an arctic gust expected to deliver some of the coldest temperatures in decades to the Great Plains and upper Midwest could push prices for the rural heating fuel even higher, the WSJ reports (link).

 

        Propane rally

 

     • Ag demand: Turkey’s state grain board provisionally purchased around 235,000 MT of corn in a tender. Jordan’s state grain buyer tendered to buy 120,000 MT of milling wheat that can be sourced from optional origins as well as 120,000 MT of feed barley. Yesterday, the country bought 60,000 MT of milling wheat from optional origins.

 

Items in Pro Farmer's First Thing Today include (Link to subscribe to FTT):

     • Argentine gov’t: won’t use export taxes or quotas to curb inflation
     • Argentina to see some crop stress over next week, but critically dry conditions unlikely
     • Ukraine’s barley exports have tripled 2019-20’s total, with China aggressive buyer
     • Consultancy hikes soft wheat and barley export forecasts for the EU + Britain
     • Brazil’s Aurora planning major increase in chicken processing

 


POLICY FOCUS


 

— Rep. Thompson asks Democrats why they turned partisan in latest ag aid measure; ag reconciliation measure cleared on partisan vote. “It is with a measure of regret that we begin our tenure together marking up this reconciliation bill,” said House Ag Committee ranking member G.T. Thompson (R-Pa.). “The members of the Ag Committee have long prided ourselves on our bipartisanship. We have worked together to find commonsense solutions to help agricultural producers, families in need, and both rural and urban communities. Unfortunately, today’s business charts a different course. Rather than spending time to work with Republicans, the Democratic leadership in the House and Senate are abusing the reconciliation process to jam through a very narrow, partisan agenda with the barest of majorities,” Thompson said. “Unfortunately, this flawed approach is now being adopted by this Committee. What we are marking up today was written behind closed doors; Republicans were cut out of the process. The first time we saw this $16 billion proposal was less than 48 hours ago.”

 

     The panel late Wednesday approved the agriculture and nutrition provisions of the Democrats’ proposed coronavirus aid package via a vote of 25 to 23, along party lines.     It will now advance to House floor with a vote possible during the week of Feb. 22. It will be folded into a broader $1.9 trillion stimulus bill backed by President Joe Biden. The ag measure includes about $4 billion for USDA to buy and distribute commodities, such as fresh produce, dairy, seafood, eggs, and meat, and establish grants and loans for small- to mid-sized food processors, producers. It also includes an extension through the summer of a temporary 15% increase in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamp) benefits. Rep. Cindy Axne (D-Iowa) broke with her caucus to approve an amendment by Rep. Randy Feenstra (R-Iowa) that would add payments for crop losses due to natural disasters. The provision would provide payments to producers who suffered damages as a result of the derecho through USDA’s Wildfire and Hurricane Indemnity Program (WHIP). Some contacts wonder if Democratic House leaders will strip the derecho amendment language from the final Covid aid package.

 

     In a statement after the markup, Thompson said, “House Democrats made it explicitly clear today there was never any intention to reach across the aisle and that the collective voice of Rural America would be silenced. In one breath, the chairman and his members praised our amendments, and in the next, they voted against them. They love our ideas and think they are necessary to protect families and the vulnerable from Covid — just not enough to upset [House] Speaker [Nancy] Pelosi [D-Calif.]'s budget power grab.

 

     Over the past year, USDA has allocated more than $72 billion of assistance to hungry families, distressed producers, and shattered communities. And yet, Thompson said, USDA has obligated roughly 60% of the funds we have provided. “To make matters worse, the Biden administration has frozen the additional CFAP assistance that Congress provided in December,” he said. He revealed he recently sent a letter to the Office of Management and Budget to clarify what funds remain unspent and why. “Answering these basic questions, Thompson said, “is essential as we seek to provide additional assistance.”

 

     Thompson added the House Ag Committee “has not held a single hearing on USDA’s Covid response and the programs they have developed. We cannot fully account for what was spent and whether it was helpful. What’s worse, we don’t know what the new needs are and if we’re meeting them with this package today.”

 

     Thompson said members from both parties should call on the Biden administration “to unfreeze CFAP to provide immediate assistance to farm families. Let’s work expeditiously to review current resources and needs.”

 

— Major divisive issue surfaces in House Ag Committee regarding payments to designated minority producers. House Ag panel Democrats defeated two GOP amendments that would have scaled back provisions that will pay off USDA farm loans held by minority producers. Committee Chairman David Scott (D-Ga.), the panel’s first Black Democrat chairman, defended the debt relief plan. “There has been no one who has been discriminated in the whole agriculture industry like African Americans, who deserve some compassion and understanding,” he said.

 

     The controversy: Under the debt relief/direct payment provision, a farmer who qualifies as socially disadvantaged, under a definition in the 1990 Farm Bill, could get a payment worth 120% of the amount they owe on a USDA direct or guaranteed loan. The additional 20% is intended to cover the taxes the farmers would owe on the debt-relief payment.

 

     Asked whether white women would qualify for the payments, Democratic members initially had a hard time responding, but a panel staffer said it would be limited to Blacks, Hispanics, Native Americans and Asian Americans.

 

     Scott said the ultimate goal of the debt relief was to increase the number of Black farmers, who now represent just 1% of all producers, he said.

 

     Rep. Austin Scott (R-Ga.), who is white, recalled USDA had paid out $2.2 billion in settlements for discrimination against Black farmers starting in 1999 (link to CRS report). “The idea that the federal government can write a check for 120% of someone’s outstanding loan balance when we’ve already settled the cases form 1999 and 2010, I think It’s wrong, and I think it’s unconstitutional,” said Scott. He also said eligible farmers wouldn’t have to prove they had been discriminated against. Scott said the funds would lead to reverse discrimination if USDA would forgive 120% of all outstanding USDA loans for farmers of color. “As this pushes forward, courts have ruled Congress cannot discriminate on race,” he said, adding there are no distinctions that farmers have to prove discrimination and payments would be based solely on a producers’ skin color.

 

     Rep. Randy Feenstra (R-Iowa) said it would be unprecedented for the federal government to provide debt relief to a group of people for more than what they owed. It “would be more clear, fair and responsible to cap this forgiveness at 100%, just as all our other loans are at this point,” he said. But panel Dems nixed an Feenstra amendment to cap the payments at 100% of indebtedness as well as a proposal by Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-Mo.) to limit the debt relief to loans that minority farmers had taken out as a result of the pandemic. Hartzler said her amendment would have kept the bill focused on coronavirus relief.

 

— Legislative proposal would significantly boost CCC borrowing authority. A recent legislative proposal (HR 843) would raise USDA’s Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC) borrowing authority to $68 billion, more than doubling the current maximum level of $30 billion. It would also provide USDA greater flexibility in maintaining farm bill programs. Proponents say upping the borrowing limit to $68 billion would bring it in line with the inflation-adjusted value of the $30 billion cap put in place more than 30 years ago. The measure was introduced by Rep. Austin Scott (R-Ga.). Original co-sponsors of the measure include Reps. Sanford Bishop (D-Ga.), Chellie Pingree (D-Maine), Rick Allen (R-Ga.), Trent Kelly (R-Miss.), Rick Crawford (R-Ark.), David Rouzer (R-N.C.) and Buddy Carter (R-Ga.).

 

— Other updates on coming Covid-19 aid package:

  • Democrats advance $400-a-week jobless aid. he House Ways and Means Committee yesterday advanced a key portion of Democrats’ Covid-19 relief push -- a $400 weekly supplement to unemployment benefits through the end of August. The measure was approved on a 24-18 vote. The legislation cleared by the panel would also expand benefits for self-employed and gig workers and extend the number of weeks that long-term jobless individuals can qualify for payments.
     
  • House Education and Labor Committee approved increasing the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour, a part of the first piece of legislation to advance out of committee in Biden’s relief plan. The panel voted 27-21 along party lines yesterday.

    Also in the stimulus package, single Americans earning up to $75,000 or married couples making $150,000 will see bigger payouts than in prior rounds, but these payments phase down more quickly. Individuals making $100,000 or more, or joint filers making $200,000 and up won’t get anything.

    The panel’s language includes an extension of P-EBT benefits for the entirety of the Covid-19 public health emergency, as well as a big temporary boost to WIC vouchers to make it easier for low-income families to buy fruits and vegetables. The package also includes $390 million to help increase participation in WIC.

     
  • House Small Business Committee approved $50 billion in emergency pandemic aid for small businesses. The legislation would provide $25 billion for restaurants and bars under a new Small Business Administration program, and $15 billion for “economic injury disaster” loans.
     
  • The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee advanced by a vote of 39 to 25 a proposal with more than $40 billion in aid for the transportation sector as part of House Democrats’ Covid-19 stimulus package. The measure would provide $30 billion for transit, $8 billion for U.S. airports, $3 billion for aviation manufacturing jobs, and $1.5 billion for Amtrak.
     

BIDEN ADMINISTRATION PERSONNEL


 

—  White House officials back Lisa Cook for Fed. Economist Lisa Cook has the backing of several key White House officials and allies outside the administration as a possible choice for President Joe Biden in filling a vacancy on the Federal Reserve Board of Governors, according to reports. Cook, who teaches at Michigan State University, is also on the steering committee of the Washington Center for Equitable Growth, a think tank co-founded by White House adviser Heather Boushey. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen was previously on the steering committee.
 


CHINA UPDATE


 

‘I will work with China when it benefits the U.S.’, Biden tells Xi. President Joe Biden expressed concerns to Chinese leader Xi Jinping about human rights in Hong Kong and Xinjiang in their first call since Biden took office.  Their talk included discussions on human rights, trade, climate change and nuclear proliferation. A White House statement said Biden raised his “fundamental concerns about Beijing’s coercive and unfair economic practices,” as well as human rights issues and “preserving a free and open Indo-Pacific” region. But it said the leaders discussed cooperation on fighting Covid-19, climate change and other issues. “I told him I will work with China when it benefits the American people,” Biden tweeted.

 

     Chinese President Xi Jinping reiterated Beijing’s view that “cooperation is the only correct choice for the two nations. Cooperation can help the two nations and the world to accomplish big things, while confrontation is definitely a disaster,” Xi was quoted as saying by state-run news agency Xinhua. “China and U.S. will have different views on certain issues, and it is important for them to treat each other with respect and equally, and properly manage the differences in constructive manner,” he added. Xi said a resumption of dialogue was needed to avoid misjudgments and to differentiate those disputes which could be contained. He called on Washington to be cautious in its handling of issues related to China’s sovereignty. He said that the U.S. and China should work together on issues such as efforts to combat the Covid-19 pandemic, spur a global economic recovery and maintain regional stability.

 

     Xi described Taiwan, Hong Kong and Xinjiang as China’s “internal affairs,” and called for the resumption of dialogue between the countries.

 

     Biden last week called China “our most serious competitor” and their conversation came the same day that Biden launched a Pentagon review of the national security aspects of the administration’s China strategy, as part of a broader effort to determine its approach to countering Beijing. Biden raised his “fundamental concerns about Beijing’s coercive and unfair economic practices,” as well human rights issues and “preserving a free and open Indo-Pacific” region.

 

     What’s next? Currently the U.S. has levies on $370 billon of Chinese imports — three quarters of everything China sells to the U.S. Biden officials are examining “the sources of leverage we have on the economic front,” said an administration official, which would take some time. Afterward, the administration would “move out with a sharper, more effective trade strategy towards China, off the baseline of the existing tariffs, not pulling them all back right out of the gate,” the official said.

 

     U.S. trade balance

 

— Solid bookings of U.S. soybeans, upland cotton for 2020-21 continue by China. Sales of U.S. ag products to China for the week ended Feb. 4 included net sales for 2020-21 of 2,300 tonnes of wheat, 15,587 tonnes of corn, 110,002 tonnes of sorghum, 517,027 tonnes of soybeans and 55,796 running bales of upland Cotton. For 2021-22, sales of 66,000 tonnes of soybeans and cancellations of 8,000 running bales of upland Cotton were reported. Sales for 2021 on pork were at 9,692 tonnes and at 1,757 tonnes for beef. Sales of U.S. key ag commodities to all destinations for the week were above expectations on wheat, soybeans and corn for delivery during the 2020-21 marketing years for those commodities.

 

— Reports out of China that they allegedly found Covid in a shipment of U.S. pork. Details awaited.

 

— China’s birth rate fell by 14.9% between 2019 and 2020 — a stunning drop likely prompted in part by the insecurity of the pandemic. China’s birth rates have worried government planners for years, leading to the end of the one-child policy in 2016. Link for details via CNN.

 

— China has more teleworkers than U.S. has citizens. China reports there are 350 million teleworkers in the country at the end of 2020, up 147 million from the level seen in June 2020, according to the China Internet Network and Information Center. The U.S. population is at 328 million. The China report said the 346 million telecommuters accounted for about 35% of all China 'netizens.' 

 

— WSJ: China detains Tencent executive in corruption probe. Zhang Feng has been under investigation since early last year, as part of a probe into a high-profile corruption case involving one of the country’s former top law-enforcement officials. Link for details.

 

— Simmons disappears from list of firms ineligible to export to China. The Simmons Foods plant in Gentry, Arkansas, is no longer listed as being ineligible to export product to China, with no explanation offered by the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) for the sudden shift. Earlier this week, FSIS posted a notice that export requirements for China had changed, listing the change as being the Arkansas plant as the third company in the state ineligible to export to China, effective Feb. 7. But a notation posted Wednesday (Feb. 10), simply removed the Simmons plant from the list. Typically, when a company is declared in ineligible to export to a country and then becomes eligible again, there is still a period of time when shipments from the firm are not allowed, but that is not the case with Simmons. Contacts indicate this could be a sign that the initial announcement of export ineligibility was in error. It is not clear how much poultry/products Simmons had been exporting to China as some believe the firm had not made any significant shipments to the country.

 

U.S./China Phase 1 tracker: China’s purchases of U.S. goods. Link

 


ENERGY & CLIMATE CHANGE


 

— EPA pick Regan continues to assure lawmakers of looking at all options on policy. North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality chief Michael Regan repeatedly assured lawmakers during his confirmation hearing last week that he would “look at all options” and be inclusive as he pursues decisions at the agency. In response to written questions, he has continued to deploy that line of response.

 

     Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) pressed Regan during the hearing on biofuels issues and again in written questions submitted after the session. Regarding the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) beyond 2022 when the current EPA authority on the program expires, Regan said he would consult with legal and policy teams to understand options for the agency relative to setting RFS levels beyond 2022. She asked if Regan would try to grow the use of advanced biofuels like biomass-based biodiesel. Regan said, "I will confer with my legal and policy team to understand all of the options before me regarding the RFS program, and in this specific case, how to set the RFS volume requirements beyond 2022.”

 

     Regan was approved by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on a 14-to-six vote, with Ernst among those voting against the nomination. He is expected to win approval by the full Senate, but a vote on his nomination has not yet been set.

 

     As for the RFS beyond 2022, expectations are Congress may well weigh in on the matter just as they did to create the RFS in 2005 and when they updated mandates in 2007.

 

— Manchin urges Biden to reconsider pipeline ban decision. Energy and Natural Resources Committee chairman Joe Manchin is calling on Biden to reconsider his decision to cancel a permit for the Keystone XL oil pipeline. Biden’s decision has drawn backlash from union leaders who endorsed him and some centrist Democrats who say the cancellation will kill thousands of construction jobs. In his letter, Manchin called on Biden to support the continued construction of oil and gas pipelines more broadly, saying “responsible energy infrastructure” supports the president’s “Build Back Better” agenda.

 

     But several House and Senate Democrats are calling on Biden to build on his cancellation of the Keystone XL pipeline by shuttering another controversial pipeline, Dakota Access, while it undergoes an environmental review mandated by the courts.

 

     Biden’s cancelation of Keystone XL is among his least popular executive orders so far, although more people agree with the decision than not. A poll released from Morning Consult and Politico found 42% of voters support Biden’s move to revoke the Keystone XL permit, while 38% oppose it and 20% don’t know. It was the third least popular of 28 executive orders polled. Some of Biden’s other environmental moves polled better, including his commitment to conserve 30% of U.S. lands and oceans (63% support), ordering agencies to revisit fuel efficiency standards for vehicles (62%), and rejoining the Paris Agreement (56%). The survey was conducted Feb. 5-7 among 1,986 registered voters.

 

— Ford EV F-150 battery supplier court loses fight. SK Innovation’s Korean-made batteries will be banned from the U.S. for 10 years, dealing a potential blow to efforts by Ford and Volkswagen to ramp up production of electric vehicles, the International Trade Commission (ITC) ruled yesterday. They can petition President Biden to veto the import ban on public policy grounds. If the president doesn’t take any action, the order will take effect in 60 days. But there is a four-year transition period to allow Ford to find new suppliers for the battery components and the decision also affected Volkswagen, with a two-year grace period for that firm in the ruling. With the grace period, Ford said the ruling “supports our plans to bring the all-electric Ford F-150 to market in mid-2022.” SK Innovation argued an import ban would hamper Biden’s climate goals, and they recruited former EPA Administrator Carol Browner as an expert witness to help make that argument. “The U.S. automotive industry is on the cusp of a major transition to electric vehicles as part of a broader effort to combat climate change — a transition that is wholly dependent on a sufficient supply of EV batteries,” SK Innovation told the ITC.

 


CORONAVIRUS UPDATE


 

 Summary: Global cases of Covid-19 are at 107,407,890 with 2,356,684 deaths, according to data compiled by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University. The U.S. case count is at 27,287,341 with 451,575 deaths.
      

       Link to Covid Case Tracker
       Link to Our World in Data

 

— Possible early Covid cases in China emerge in WHO probe. About 90 people were hospitalized with coronavirus-like symptoms in central China in the two months before the disease was first identified in Wuhan in late 2019, according to World Health Organization investigators, who said they pressed Beijing to allow further testing to determine whether the new virus was spreading earlier than previously known.

 

— Double masking can help reduce coronavirus exposure, CDC report finds. Wearing a cloth mask over a medical one may better protect people against the threat of coronavirus transmission, federal health officials said this week. In a report released Wednesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that this type of double masking can substantially reduce exposure to potentially infectious aerosols. Adjusting a medical mask to fit more tightly can provide similar protection, the report said.

 

— CVS and Walmart decide who gets leftover Covid-19 vaccine doses. Pharmacies and grocers are determined that no doses of the vaccines will go to waste and are compiling wait lists and putting their own workers on standby in case extra shots become available.

 

— Instagram bans Robert F. Kennedy Jr. The prominent vaccine skeptic's account was removed permanently “for repeatedly sharing debunked claims about the coronavirus or vaccines,” as parent company Facebook intensifies effort to combat false and misleading information about Covid-19.

 

— Chinese vaccine makers are racing to meet the needs of China and a growing list of countries, but there are signs that inoculations are going slower than planned. China had administered more than 40 million doses as of Feb. 9 — far short of its goal of distributing 100 million doses before the start of the Lunar New Year holiday on Friday. The WHO said governments should continue rolling out AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine, citing evidence that suggests it can protect against severe disease from new variants.

 

— Another remote-work year looms as office-reopening plans are delayed. High hopes that a rapid vaccine rollout would send millions of workers back into offices by spring have been scuttled. Many companies are pushing workplace-return dates to September—and beyond—or refusing to commit to specific dates. While many companies say productivity is up, executives worry creativity is suffering and say burnout is on the rise. Even so, bosses struggle to say when things will change. Link to more via the WSJ.

 


POLITICS & ELECTIONS


 

— Democrats to finish presenting case on third day of impeachment trial. Lawmakers have a further eight hours to present evidence, in an effort aimed at persuading enough Republican senators to convict former President Donald Trump. His legal team will then have 16 hours to present his defense.     

 

     A Wall Street Journal editorial says Trump “might be acquitted, but he won’t live down his disgraceful conduct.” Link to commentary.

 

— 47 House Democrats are on GOP target list for 2022. The campaign arm of House Republicans is targeting 47 Democratic incumbents in next year’s midterm elections, the first sign of where the battle lines will be drawn as the GOP seeks to retake the chamber. The National Republican Congressional Committee’s (NRCC) list (link), includes 29 districts that either did not back President Joe Biden or supported their House incumbent by 5 points or less. The list also includes eight Democrats who won by less than 10 points and underperformed Biden, and 10 members the NRCC believes could face redistricting trouble next year. Republicans are optimistic about their chances in the 2022 cycle, pointing to the history of midterm gains for parties in the House and Senate minority when the opposite party controls the White House. The GOP also outperformed expectations down ballot in November. House Democrats lost a net of 11 seats from the 116th Congress, with 13 of their incumbents defeated. They also lost an open Democratic seat and picked up three open GOP seats. No House Republican incumbent was defeated. '

 

     Members of the House Agriculture Committee the NRCC has targeted:

     • Filemon Vela, Texas
     • Abigail Spanberger, Virginia
     • Jahana Hayes, Connecticut
     ▪ Antonio Delgado, New York
     ▪ Cheri Bustos, Illinois
     ▪ Sean Patrick Maloney, New York
     ▪ Tom O’Halleran, Arizona
     ▪ Angie Craig, Minnesota
     ▪ Josh Harder, California
     ▪ Cindy Axne, Iowa
     ▪ Kim Schrier, Washington


— Ballotpedia takes early look at 2022 Senate elections. On Nov. 8, 2022, 34 U.S. Senate seats will be up for election. Of the 34 Senate seats, Republicans currently hold 20 and Democrats hold 14. Four Republicans — Alabama’s Richard Shelby, North Carolina's Richard Burr, Ohio's Rob Portman, and Pennsylvania's Pat Toomey — have announced they will not run for re-election. (Link to Ballotpedia for details)

 

     Democrats are not defending any Senate seats in states Donald Trump won in the 2020 presidential election.

 

     Republicans are defending two Senate seats in states Joe Biden won: Pennsylvania (held by Sen. Pat Toomey) and Wisconsin (held by Sen. Ron Johnson).

 

     Early race ratings. Outlets including The Cook Political Report, Inside Elections, and Sabato's Crystal Ball have released early race ratings. The outlets agreed in their ratings of 15 races as Safe/Solid Republican and 10 as Safe/Solid Democratic. The nine elections with more competitive ratings from two or more outlets are:

 

     Toss-up or Democratic advantage

     Toss-up or Republican advantage

     Seats that changed party hands: Four of the seats up for election in 2022 changed party hands the last time they were up for election. In 2020-2021, Democrats picked up Senate seats in special elections in Georgia and Arizona. In 2016, Democrats picked up Senate seats in Illinois and New Hampshire. The last time these Senate seats were up for election, seven were won by a margin of fewer than 5 percentage points. They are listed below by margin. Of those seven seats, Democrats won four and Republicans won three.

  • Wisconsin: Ron Johnson (R) won by 3.4 percentage points in 2016.
  • Missouri: Roy Blunt (R) won by 2.8 percentage points in 2016.
  • Arizona: Mark Kelly (D) defeated incumbent Martha McSally (R) by 2.4 percentage points in the 2020 special election.
  • Nevada: Catherine Cortez Masto (D) won by 2.4 percentage points in 2016.
  • Georgia: Raphael Warnock (D) defeated incumbent Kelly Loeffler (R) by 2.1 percentage points in the special runoff election last month.
  • Pennsylvania: Pat Toomey (R) won by 1.5 percentage points in 2016.
  • New Hampshire: Maggie Hassan (D) defeated incumbent Kelly Ayotte (R) by 0.1 percentage point in 2016.
     

OTHER ITEMS OF NOTE     



— Vilsack to discuss hunger at National Press Foundation. Former USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack, who is President Biden’s nominee to be Agriculture secretary, will discuss American hunger in a webinar organized by the National Press Foundation. The event will be held Wednesday, Feb. 17, at noon EST.

 

— White House meeting this morning with senators on infrastructure. Later this morning, President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris will meet at the White House with senators from both parties on investing in modern and sustainable infrastructure. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg will join the meeting virtually, according to a White House statement.

 

— Biden administration asks the Supreme Court to save ObamaCare. In a letter to the court, the Justice Department disavowed the Trump administration’s efforts to strike down the Affordable Care Act, saying it regarded the law as constitutional.

 

— Work Visas: Business groups and immigrant advocates are pushing the Biden administration to quickly reverse a ban imposed last year on most forms of legal immigration in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

 

— Iran has started producing uranium metal, a material that is banned under the 2015 nuclear accords and could be used to form the core of a nuclear weapon, according to a confidential report by the United Nations atomic agency, seen by the WSJ (link). The move is seen as an attempt to step up pressure on the Biden administration to lift economic sanctions on Tehran.

 

— Walk the walk but don’t talk about talk… Japan's Olympic chief to quit after sexist remarks. Yoshiro Mori, a former prime minister and president of the Tokyo Olympic organizing committee, said on Feb. 3 that meetings with women tend to drag on because they talk too much. Mori was quoted as saying he would prefer to restrict the speaking time of women on the Olympic board of trustees because “they have difficulty finishing, which is annoying.”

 


REMEMBERING


 

— Alex Barbarika, a CRP expert and USDA economist, dies following fire. If a reporter ever wanted to know about the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), they eventually found their way to Alex Barbarika, who would take the time needed to understand the program and its monthly reports of activity. Barbarika generated those reports. The well-respected economist died this past weekend following a fire at his home. He received many Secretarial and Agency awards, was the 1999 USDA Economist of the Year, the 2008 Fred Woods award recipient, a 2013 recipient of the John Lee award, and was on a team awarded then-Vice President Gore’s Silver Hammer award. Link to a CRP document Alex recently completed. The document now contains the line, “In memory of Alex Barbarika.”

 


 

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