Biden open to sending stimulus payments to smaller group in next aid round
In Today’s Digital Newspaper
• USDA weekly export sales were above expectations for old-crop beans, new-crop wheat
• Regulators meeting today to discuss the recent market tumult
• SEC reportedly combing through social media posts for fraud
• CBO to Issue new budget projections on Feb. 11
• Stronger U.S. dollar is influencing wheat market
• FAO: Food price index rose to highest level in nearly seven years
• Ag demand
• Another day, another plan, this time for permanent Russian wheat export duties
• Attaché’s corn production and export forecasts for Brazil fall short of USDA’s
• Ukraine’s wheat exports to date continue to signal its export cap won’t be tested
• India takes steps to hike rice exports
• Biden open to sending stimulus payments to a smaller group in the next round
• EPA nominee Regan draws bipartisan support at confirmation hearing
• December DMC payments triggered by price margins
• Farm Bureau: Time ripe for major immigration reform as Biden offers initial plan
Biden Administration Personnel
• Granholm nomination advances
• Senate committee to vote on U.N. ambassador
• How USDA reports corn sales to China under industry discussion and chatter
• China’s big corn buys reflected in weekly busines
Energy & Climate Change:
• Schumer unveils 'whole-of-Senate' climate fight
• Covid-19 vaccine makers taking aim at dangerous new strains
• Vast numbers of Americans unsure about getting Covid-19
• Pfizer expects $15 billion in Covid vaccine sales in 2021
Politics & Elections:
• Senate unanimously adopted organizing resolution
• Biden will deliver first major foreign policy speech at State Department
• House will vote today on Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene
• Sen. Klobuchar to propose tougher antitrust laws
• McConnell names Senate committee members including Agriculture
Other Items of Note:
• Bayer unveiled a $2 billion proposal re: non-Hodgkin lymphoma claims/Roundup
• Canada names Proud Boys a terrorist group
• McKinsey will pay $573 million to settle investigations into its role in opioid crisis
Equities today: U.S. equity futures signal a slightly higher opening. In Asia, most major benchmarks declined by the close of trading. Japan’s Nikkei 225 fell 1.1%, while the Shanghai Composite Index slipped 0.4%. South Korea’s Kospi Index closed down 1.4%, weighed by losses in tech stocks. European equity markets are edging up amid attention on earnings updates.
U.S. equities yesterday: Despite a late-session decline, the Dow still finished up 36.12 points, 0.12%, at 30,723.60. The Nasdaq declined 2.23 points, 0.02%, at 13,610.54. The S&P 500 edged up 3.86 points, 0.10%, at 3,830.17.
Top financial regulators will meet today with Treasury Sec. Janet Yellen to discuss the recent market tumult with most thinking they are unlikely to reach any conclusions on whether the activity points to risks to financial stability or the need for regulatory changes. Most see the session as exploratory. Business leaders, politicians and some smaller brokerage firms are calling on regulators to reconsider a decades-old practice in the U.S. stock market: payment for order flow. Meanwhile, the SEC is reportedly combing through social media posts for fraud. The commission is looking for misinformation that may have spurred the market frenzy, while also examining trading data to see if messages and transactions match up, Bloomberg reports. Reddit has also said that its content filters blocked a “large amount” of posts by bots, adding to concerns about manipulation. Meanwhile, Robinhood is facing more than 30 civil lawsuits in relation to trading restrictions it imposed last week. The online brokerage is expected to air a Super Bowl commercial on Sunday with the message that anyone can invest. Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), the head of the House Financial Services Committee, wants Keith Gill, who goes by “Roaring Kitty” in YouTube videos about investing, to testify at a Feb. 18 hearing on the meme-stock trading, which will also feature the Robinhood chief Vlad Tenev.
On tap today:
• Bank of England releases a policy statement at 7 a.m. ET.
• U.S. jobless claims are expected to fall to 830,000 in the week ended Jan. 30 from 847,000 a week earlier. Follow our coverage here. (8:30 a.m. ET) Update: The number of workers seeking unemployment benefits fell to 779,000 last week, a sign that layoffs have started to ease following an increase in early January. The decline in the week ended Jan. 30 marked the third week of lower filings.
• U.S. labor productivity is expected to fall 2.8% in the fourth quarter from the prior quarter. (8:30 a.m. ET)
• USDA Weekly Export Sales report, 8:30 a.m. ET.
• U.S. factory orders for December are expected to rise 0.7% from a month earlier. (10 a.m. ET)
• Federal Reserve: Dallas Fed President Robert Kaplan speaks on the economy at 1 p.m. ET and San Francisco Fed President Mary Daly speaks about career pathways at 2 p.m. ET.
• Japan household spending for December is out at 6:30 p.m. ET.
CBO to Issue new budget projections on Feb. 11. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) will release The Budget and Economic Outlook: 2021 to 2031 at 2 p.m. ET on Thursday, Feb. 11. The report will include a brief description of CBO’s latest 10-year budget projections and reprise the economic projections issued this week.
• Outside markets: The U.S. dollar index is higher, hitting a two-month high overnight. Nymex crude oil futures prices are higher and near this week’s 12-month high, trading around $56.15 a barrel. The yield on the benchmark 10-year U.S. Treasury note stands at 1.136%.
• Crude oil prices have gained ahead of the U.S. trading as focus remains on OPEC+ commitments and the drawdown in U.S. crude stocks. US crude is trading around $56.15 per barrel and Brent around $58.80 per barrel. Crude oil prices firmed in Asian action, with U.S. crude up 15 cents at $55.84 per barrel and Brent crude was up six cents at $58.52 per barrel.
• Stronger U.S. dollar is influencing the wheat market, says analyst Richard Crow. He says EU wheat is being pushed to the world, the government is controlling Russia's wheat prices, and “where values are is a question. Reports have interior wheat moving in Russia from the producer.”
• United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization said its food price index rose to the highest level in nearly seven years. That signals consumer and producer price inflation could heat up in the coming months. Global food prices climbed 4.3% from December to January, marking both the eighth consecutive rise in a row and also the highest monthly averages since July 2014. “The latest increase reflected strong gains in the sugar, cereals and vegetable oils sub-indices, while meat and dairy values were also up but to a lesser extent,” FAO reported. FAO raised its 2020 world wheat production estimate by 4.8 MMT to an all-time high of 766.5 MMT, citing strong crops in Australia and Canada. But the organization also lowered its world coarse grains production estimate by nearly 5 MMT, citing “sizable” cuts to corn production in the U.S. and Ukraine. Looking out to 2021, FAO is calling for “a modest increase in wheat production in the northern hemisphere but a decline in maize production in the southern hemisphere.”
• Ag demand: Egypt purchased a total of 58,000 MT of soyoil in international and local tenders yesterday. in its tender for an unspecified quantity of vegetable oils in an international tender. Jordan made no purchase in its international tender to buy 120,000 MT of milling wheat. Turkey’s state grain board issued an international tender to buy 235,000 MT of animal feed corn. A South Korean group known as SPC bought around 32,200 MT of milling wheat from the U.S. in a tender. Japan purchased 56,900 MT of food-quality wheat from the U.S. and another 30,150 MT of the grain from Canada via its regular tender.
Items in Pro Farmer's First Thing Today include:
• Another day, another plan, this time for permanent Russian wheat export duties
• Attaché’s corn production and export forecasts for Brazil fall short of USDA’s
• Ukraine’s wheat exports to date continue to signal its export cap won’t be tested
• India takes steps to hike rice exports
— President Biden said he’s willing to send the next round of Covid aid checks to a smaller, more targeted group of people, according to a Wednesday evening call with House Democrats. Biden told House Democrats that he wouldn’t change the amount of the proposed $1,400 payments, saying people had been promised that amount. Instead, he said he would consider targeting them differently than the previous two rounds of direct aid to Americans. “We can better target that number. I’m OK with that,” Biden said. White House press secretary Jen Psaki said later Wednesday that Biden is open to changes in the threshold for who would qualify for the $1,400 stimulus checks. “That’s something that has been under discussion,” she said.
One possible change some Democrats are discussing is to start phasing out the $1,400 payments at $50,000 for individuals and $100,000 for married couples. About 71% of Americans would get the full benefits and another 17% would get the partial benefit, according to Kyle Pomerleau, a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute who specializes in tax policy. Under the Democratic plan that is taking shape, parents of children would receive an additional $1,400 per child. That means a family of four would receive $5,600. Adult dependents are eligible for stimulus payments under the Democrats’ current plan. The latest Democratic plan would cost around $420 billion, according to Marc Goldwein, senior policy director for the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget (CRFB). That’s down slightly from Biden’s initial proposal for the checks, which would have cost about $465 billion and gone to singles earning up to $75,000 and couples earning up to $150,000, according to CRFB.
Democrats are separately pushing a child tax benefit that would provide over the course of a year $3,600 per children under 6 and $3,000 per child aged 6 to 17. A version of that plan is expected in the final agreement.
Biden also said he was flexible on the overall cost of the package, which Democrats have started advancing through Congress via a process that will allow them to pass it along party lines. He said Democrats could make “compromises” on several programs in the proposal.
Republicans have called Biden’s plan too expensive and premature after Congress approved roughly $900 billion in aid in December, and they have criticized provisions like raising the minimum wage as unrelated to the pandemic.
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.VA.) said he didn’t support a $15 minimum wage, a provision that is currently in the Democrats’ proposal. He said he believed the current federal minimum wage of $7.25 should be raised by a smaller amount and recommended $11 for West Virginia, adjusted for inflation in future years. The state’s current minimum wage is $8.75. Meanwhile, Senate parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough will determine whether Biden’s proposal to increase the minimum wage and other components of his $1.9 trillion relief package make it through Congress. MacDonough is tasked with deciding if provisions like raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour are allowed to pass the Senate with a simple-majority vote under a special process known as budget reconciliation. The parliamentarian will pass judgement on what elements of Biden’s plan comply with the Byrd Rule, which lays out detailed requirements for protecting legislation from filibusters through the reconciliation process.
Sen. Krysten Sinema (D-Ariz.) listed several provisions she said she was hoping to get included in the bill, such as a restaurant relief fund that she had introduced with Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) over the summer.
Meanwhile, the House on Wednesday adopted its budget framework for up to $1.9 trillion in coronavirus relief. But that chamber will have to vote again after the Senate takes action on its version. The House adopted by a 218-212 vote a fiscal 2021 budget resolution. After both chambers act, House and Senate committees will have until Feb. 16 to craft the elements of a stimulus bill. That legislation will have to stay below $1.9 trillion and adhere to Senate rules against including non-fiscal provisions to remain immune from a Republican filibuster.
— Michael Regan, President Biden’s nominee to lead the Environmental Protection Agency (EP), drew bipartisan support at his Senate confirmation hearing Wednesday. “I’ve spent a lot of time talking to people in North Carolina, people in the agriculture sector, people in the energy sector — and what they all said is Michael distinguished himself as somebody who listens,” Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) said. “I do believe he will be somebody that we can rely on to be fair.”
Regan, 44, told members of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee (EPW) that he will ensure transparency and stakeholder engagement relative to the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) and related biofuel policy issues but avoided getting into specifics. The issue of small refinery exemptions (SREs) under the RFS surfaced several times during the hearing. Biofuel interests oppose the waivers while the refining sector which generally favors them. Asked by Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), a proponent of refiners, whether he would fully account for the hardship faced by small refiners struggling to comply with RFS blending mandates when considering SRE petitions, Regan responded “I commit that we will fully follow the law.” Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) pressed Regan from the other direction, after accusing the Trump administration of a “cynical betrayal of the Midwest” over its moves to grant more SREs despite casting itself as a supporter of the biofuels industry. Asked by Duckworth if he would uphold the RFS program consistent with Congress’ intent, Regan promised “we will introduce some transparency into [the RFS], we will let science lead us and we will follow the letter of the law as it was intended for that program.”
Also raised was the issue of Renewable Identification Numbers (RINs) — the biofuel credits that refiners can buy to demonstrate compliance with the RFS. “We've had some discussions on this and understand how it fits into the full picture of the RFS, and understand that we really need to protect the integrity of these RINs, also ensuring that we are looking holistically at the original intent of the RFS and the law and applying the correct data and science to be sure that we're protecting the integrity of those RINs,” Regan stated..
Duckworth also raised biofuels' potential role in climate policy given lower associated carbon emissions than gasoline. Regan responded by noting President Joe Biden has made climate a centerpiece of his agenda and has “been specifically focused on biofuels and advanced biofuels.” He noted that among his first conversations after being nominated was with USDA Secretary designate Tom Vilsack in discussing how the two agencies can partner on climate and biofuels efforts.
Regarding applications to qualify new advanced biofuels under the RFS — known as pathways — Regan told Duckworth he would “spend some time with our staff taking a look at this backlog… so that we can make up for lost time.”
Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) asked how Regan would handle a plethora of pending biofuel issues — from setting Renewable Volume Obligations (RVOs) to addressing regulatory hurdles for higher ethanol blends. “RFS is definitely a priority for this administration. I recognize that there will be a number of things sitting on the desk if I'm fortunate enough to be confirmed,” Regan responded. “The reality is that I want to sit down with my staff and sit down with legal counsel. There are a number of things that are caught up in litigation, there are a number of things that we need more transparency around how we arrived at those decisions,” he continued. As the administration reviews recent agency moves on biofuels, he promised close consultations with lawmakers and industry stakeholders. “We will take a no surprise approach; we will be extremely transparent. We will be forthcoming with the science and the data, and the legal determinations that we come to in order to make those decisions, and we will share those decisions with you,” Regan said.
Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) criticized business interests as heavy polluters in poor and minority communities. Regan said he would put more emphasis on protecting those communities disproportionately affected by pollution. Booker spotlighted the pesticide chlorpyrifos, asking for a review of recent EPA changes during the Trump administration that Booker said weakened protections for farmworkers. “I want an affirmation from you that you will not render farmworkers in America invisible,” Booker said. “Would you consider putting science ahead of big business when it comes to the chemical chlorpyrifos?” Regan said he would help farmworkers. “We’ll be driven by science, and we’ll be driven by the rule of law,” he said.
“I see the executive orders as setting goals, as setting vision,” Regan said in response to Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), who mentioned efforts to reinstate an Obama-era rule to enact stricter standards on methane emissions. “But in those executive orders, there’s plenty of room for how these things will be implemented.” Regan, who currently serves as North Carolina’s top environmental regulator, told the panel that he’s learned “we can’t simply regulate our way out of every problem we face.”
Sen Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) focused his attention on jobs and the loss of jobs that could unfold for the energy sector via climate regulations and the push toward electric vehicles. He also pointed to the decision to revoke permissions for the Keystone XL pipeline that will cost jobs involved in that project. Sullivan pointedly asked Regan about those job losses as the country is trying to lift out the recession from the Covid pandemic. “You know, I don't think it's a good idea to kill jobs. I think it's a good idea to ensure that we are transitioning the economy towards where we know the jobs will be,” Regan stated. But Sullivan quickly countered that those jobs being talked about do not yet exist. “I think when we look at the jobs, we're looking at the full breadth of what the president intends, which are major investments immediately in infrastructure,” Regan replied. “Infrastructure in terms of making sure that the pipes that we have are not leaky and are reducing the climate impact, making sure that we invest in our water quality, water sewer, water infrastructure, looking at a more intelligent grid, looking at roads and bridges.” He expressed confidence that “many of the jobs and the skill sets that people have in your state and other states can move quickly to those jobs while we also look at the advancements of other research and development opportunities to position the very communities that supported this country during the industrial revolution and made this country competitive.”
Who’s the Boss? Several Republicans expressed concern that climate change envoy John Kerry and domestic climate change adviser Gina McCarthy will wield too much influence on climate policy. Their jobs, unlike Regan’s, do not require Senate confirmation. “If I am confirmed, then I believe Congress has bestowed certain powers and authorities and accountability to me as secretary of EPA,” said Regan. “So, where the decisions are in EPA’s purview, I can assure you that I will be leading and making those decisions, and I will be accepting the accountability for those decisions.” He said he has talked to McCarthy, a former Obama EPA administrator under Obama, about the president’s “ambitious goals” and “whole government approach” to tackling climate change. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) asked whether he “got the sense” from McCarthy that he would report to her in some way. “I think it’s pretty clear this position reports to the president,” Regan said.
Regan said the agency can help chart fuel-economy and tailpipe emissions standards that guide an automobile industry already embracing electric vehicles. “EPA can play a leading role” and “can partner well with an automobile industry that is seizing this momentum,” Regan told senators.
Relative to the Obama-era Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) rule, Regan stated that he believes a plan can be developed that accounts for water quality and allowing farmers to farm. “I don't believe that we have to sacrifice water quality at the expense of making sure that farmers, especially small farmers, have a fighting chance in this economy. I believe that you can do both,” Regan stated. But he emphasized the need to involve all stakeholders “a common ground where we give the farming community and the environmental community some certainty that, as we move forward, we're going to follow the science, follow the law, look at a pragmatic approach that doesn't overburden the farmer, but we don't have to sacrifice precious wetlands in North Carolina like our Carolina bays and the others.” The Biden administration is reviewing the Trump administration’s Navigable Waters Protection Rule (NWPR); the Justice Department is asking courts to pause litigation surrounding that rule. Regan said he felt that the NWPR went too far in rolling back protections but that there is an opportunity for “common ground” on the “waters” definition both to give the agricultural and environmental communities certainty but also “so we don’t have to sacrifice precious wetlands.”
He also acknowledged geographical differences that will appear. “The agricultural needs are different in all of our regions — the water make up in Nevada surely doesn't look like the water make up in North Carolina,” he observed. “So, I want a rule that moves forward that's not overly burdensome but gives the states the flexibility to protect water quality and protect the local agricultural economy.”
Not toying around. Regan’s seven-year-old son was also present at the hearing and lawmakers as the session wrapped up indicated they were frankly surprised at how well behaved during the confirmation hearing. Regan noted that there is “a toy in the deal” to which Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) remarked, “I hope it’s a big one.”
— December DMC payments triggered by price margins. Dairy Margin Coverage (DMC) payments for December 2020 are triggered for some coverage levels as the national average margin for December was at $8.78 per hundredweight. That will trigger payments for Tier 1 margin trigger coverage levels of $9 of 22 cents per hundredweight and $9.50 margin trigger coverage levels of 72 cents per hundredweight.
— Farm Bureau: Time is ripe for major immigration reform as Biden offers initial plan. As President Joe Biden presses his immigration proposals, American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) President Zippy Duvall said he agrees that the time is right to pass comprehensive immigration reform but stressed the effort should also address issues related to the H-2A ag guestworker program. “We are long overdue for immigration reform that fixes our guestworker visa system and provides stability for those currently working in agriculture,” Duvall wrote in his latest Zipline column. “In every region of the country I visit, I hear from farmers who are facing shortages and delays in hiring skilled employees.” He labeled workforce shortages as “one of the greatest limiting factors for growth in U.S. agriculture, and it’s time we find a solution that works for all.”
Duvall welcomed signals from the Biden administration that it would like to address the issue with a comprehensive reform package, noting his group has long favored such an effort. “It’s been about 35 years since Congress last passed a comprehensive reform bill, and a lot has changed in agriculture over that time,” he wrote, adding, “responsible immigration reform will take all of us working together to get it right.”
Biden unveiled the U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021 that would provide an eight-year path to citizenship for the roughly 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. as of Jan. 1. The proposal would also immediately offer green cards for H-2A workers that have spent at least 100 days in four of the past five years in the U.S. working under the program.
Immigration plans Biden detailed during the presidemtial campaign called for making guestworker programs more flexible for workers and employers and stressed the need for “strong safeguards that require employers to pay a fair calculation of the prevailing wage.” The plans also emphasized the need to allow temporary workers to unionize.
Duvall stressed that H-2A program reforms should be included in any broad immigration package, noting farmers often encounter difficulty finding skilled workers to run equipment and laborers to harvest crops in the field. Despite offering competitive wages and other benefits required under the H-2A program — including housing and transportation — many farmers find it “a constant challenge to recruit and retain employees,” Duvall wrote.
Even farmers who provide additional employee benefits still struggle, according to Duvall. “I’ve met with farmers who have even added benefits such as on-site cafeterias and health clinics for employees to promote well-being and increase employee retention, and they still face workforce shortages,” he noted. “We also recognize not all growers are able to undertake these initiatives to attract new employees.”
Complicating the labor shortage is the aging of the farm workforce, and less interest in farm jobs “as folks leave rural areas and are more removed from the farm,” Duvall explained. While the H-2A program has seen strong growth in recent years — tripling in size over the past decade with “no sign of that slowing down,” Duvall said many farmers are hamstrung by the program’s limitations, including no provision for year-round labor needs.
Meanwhile, “delays in processing applications have often left farmers without the workers they need in time for harvest, even before the pandemic,” Duvall said of the H-2A program. “Crops shouldn’t be left to rot while paperwork sits in an agency inbox,” he stressed. The U.S. ag sector needs reforms that provide “a flexible guestworker program that allows contract and at-will employment options that work for both seasonal and year-round needs on the farm,” Duvall wrote. The desire for at-will employment would appear to run counter to Biden’s stance on worker unionization.
Duvall also emphasized that reworking the wages under the H-2A program is another priority for the group. Ag labor reform needs to “make sure wage requirements take into account the economic conditions of the agriculture industry and enable farms to remain viable,” he said. The H-2A rule finalized in the waning days of the Trump administration would have frozen program wages for two years and indexed future increases to a generic Department of Labor (DOL) wage data set — rather than the current use of data from USDA’s Farm Labor Survey. However, the move was stayed by a federal judge in December and another last-minute rule including the changes alongside a broader H-2A streamlining effort was halted by the Biden administration.
BIDEN ADMINISTRATION PERSONNEL
— Granholm nomination advances. The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee advanced the nomination of Jennifer Granholm by a vote of 13-4 to run the Department of Energy, clearing way for consideration by the Senate. Republican Sens. Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), Steve Daines (Mont.), James Risch (Idaho), and John Hoeven (N.D.) all voted in favor of approving the nomination.
— Senate committee to vote on U.N. ambassador. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee meets today to vote on whether to approve Linda Thomas-Greenfield’s nomination as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. Thomas-Greenfield’s nomination had previously been delayed by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who had questioned comments the veteran diplomat had made during a 2019 Confucius Institute speech where she had said that both the United States and China could be positive influences on Africa.
— How USDA reports corn sales to China under industry discussion and chatter. U.S. exporters in the recent past have purchased corn well ahead of the time sales are reported to China during USDA’s daily export sales reporting system. For example, COFCO has been a hefty buyer of U.S. cash corn in the U.S. domestic market for months. But they are viewed as a U.S. domestic operator, so their sales do not have to be announced via USDA’s daily export sales reporting system until boats are loaded and the corn ownership is shifted to China. Others note the corn is getting bought upriver. CIF basis values are the first clue. One analyst notes: “Whatever COFCO/China is doing is within the rules, I just don't know all of the rules. There are loopholes and they've found them and are using the loopholes to their advantage. The delay in reporting could be that the paperwork isn't officially signed even though the corn has been ‘purchased.’ Good faith deals are easy when exporters know China needs the corn.” Another analyst notes: “Not that it makes any difference, the exporting community knows sales are taking place, the bulk of the grain is bought outside of the COFCO system… COFCO has limited loading facilities.” Bottom line: U.S. corn is being purchased well before firms actually sell it overseas, which is when they have to report to USDA.
— China’s big corn buys reflected in weekly business. Large daily sales of U.S. corn to China announced last week were among the keys in the weekly recap sales to China during the week ended Jan. 28. Sales for 2020-21 to China included 5,860,432 tonnes of corn (sales to all destinations totaled 7,436,500 tonnes), 134,000 tonnes of wheat, 199,535 tonnes of sorghum, 598,889 tonnes of soybeans, and 85,388 running bales of upland cotton. Sales of 528,000 tonnes of soybeans were reported for 2021-22 along with reductions of 10,648 running bales of upland cotton. Sales of 6,976 tonnes of beef and 17,873 tonnes of pork were reported for 2021.
— U.S./China Phase 1 tracker: China’s purchases of U.S. goods.
ENERGY & CLIMATE CHANGE
— Schumer unveils 'whole-of-Senate' climate fight. Democrats in the Senate are preparing an all-hands-on-deck approach to addressing climate change, including climate hearings and a focus on “green” infrastructure and jobs, the party’s leader in the chamber said Wednesday. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said the chamber was long overdue in addressing climate change, describing it as a threat that “touches virtually every aspect of our economy and involves virtually every aspect of public policy.” Schumer directed the incoming committee chairwomen and chairmen of “all relevant committees to begin holding hearings on the climate crisis” to prepare for President Joe Biden’s domestic policy agenda, which is expected to contain a heavy focus on climate change and low carbon employment.
“It is long past time for the Senate to take a leading role in combating the existential threat of our time: climate,” Schumer said from the floor. “As the Biden administration prepares a whole-of-government approach to combating climate change, the Democratic majority will pursue a whole-of-Senate approach as well. "Make no mistake: In several different ways, this Democratic majority will compel the Senate to forcefully, relentlessly, and urgently address climate change — beginning with work in all of the relevant committees," Schumer said.
— Summary: Global cases of Covid-19 are at 104,477,541 with 2,270,860 deaths, according to data compiled by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University. The U.S. case count is at 26,558,509 with 450,823 deaths
— Covid-19 vaccine makers are taking aim at dangerous new strains, racing to create new shots after recent testing showed the variants present a bigger-than-expected threat. Separately, researchers are beginning trials to determine whether combinations of vaccines made by different manufacturers will bolster immunity, which might help ease pressure on vaccine supplies. The world faces around 4,000 variants of the virus that causes COVID-19, prompting a race to improve vaccines, Britain said today, as researchers began to explore mixing doses of the Pfizer and AstraZeneca shots in a world first. Thousands of variants have been documented as the virus mutates, including the so-called British, South African and Brazilian variants which appear to spread more swiftly than others.
Meanwhile, vast numbers of Americans are either unsure about getting the Covid-19 vaccine or say they will never get it, presenting another challenge to efforts to reach herd immunity.
— Pfizer expects $15 billion in Covid vaccine sales in 2021. The coronavirus pandemic is really paying off for Pfizer, which expects to rake in about $15 billion from its coronavirus vaccine this year — about a quarter of its entire projected 2021 revenue. The drugmaker said its groundbreaking Covid-19 vaccine is already on track to be its top product this year after it became the first to be cleared for emergency use in the U.S. in December. The staggering number was revealed Tuesday in a financial forecast from the Manhattan-based drugmaker, which said its revenue for the year would range between $59 billion and $61 billion.
POLITICS & ELECTIONS
— Senate unanimously adopted an organizing resolution that sets the ground rules for a chamber evenly divided between the two parties and officially gives Democrats control of committees after two weeks of talks. The chamber is split 50-50, and Democrats hold the majority because Vice President Kamala Harris can break any tie votes. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said the deal is almost identical to a 2001 agreement and “will allow the Senate to be fairly run as an evenly split body.”
— President Biden will deliver his first major foreign policy speech at the State Department this afternoon. He will be joined by Vice President Kamala Harris. White House press secretary Jen Psaki hinted that today’s speech would be short, and that the president wouldn’t give “his vision for every issue and every foreign policy issue.”
— House will vote today on whether to strip Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene of two committee seats. Before her election, Greene endorsed calls to execute Democratic politicians and spread conspiracy theories. Greene told her colleagues that she made a mistake by being curious about “Q” and said she told her children she learned a lesson about what to put on social media. Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), the House Republican leader, declined to revoke Greene’s assignments on his own. Meanwhile, House Republicans voted in a secret ballot to keep Representative Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), the No. 3 Republican, in her leadership position. Cheney voted to impeach President Donald Trump last month. The vote count was 145-61 in favor of keeping Cheney in leadership.
— Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) to propose tougher antitrust laws. The incoming head of the Senate antitrust subcommittee plans to introduce a bill that would raise the bar for tech acquisitions, as the newly Democratic-led Congress begins to press the issue of perceived monopoly power in technology and other industries.
— McConnell names Senate committee members including Agriculture. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) announced the Senate Republican committee assignments for the 117th Congress. He said newly elected Sens. Roger Marshall of Kansas and Tommy Tuberville of Alabama would join the returning members of the Senate Agriculture Committee, making a total of 11 Republican members.
OTHER ITEMS OF NOTE
— Bayer is trying again to contain its liability over claims that its popular Roundup weedkiller causes cancer, unveiling Wednesday a $2 billion proposal to pay farmers and gardeners who try to blame the company for illnesses in the future. The German company and plaintiffs’ lawyers said they would seek a U.S. District Court judge’s permission for a compensation program that would pay between around $5,000 and $200,000 each to future plaintiffs who contract non-Hodgkin lymphoma after using Roundup. The new proposed class action covers those who haven’t yet hired a lawyer to pursue a Roundup claim. If approved by the court, individuals who believe Roundup caused their non-Hodgkin lymphoma can apply for a settlement from a $1.33 billion pot of money, with the offers dependent on age, health, proof of Roundup use and other factors. Those who opt out can still pursue litigation on their own, with the prospect of convincing a jury to award higher, punitive damages not available to class members. The settlement fund will last four years, with the option to extend it after that. Wednesday’s deal includes a proposal to place on Roundup’s label a link to a website with information on the disputed science behind the safety of glyphosate, the weedkiller’s active ingredient. The Environmental Protection Agency must sign off on the change. The EPA has previously said Bayer can’t include a cancer-warning label on the product because the agency concluded the science didn’t back up such a claim.
— Canada names Proud Boys a terrorist group. Officials cited reasonable grounds to believe the group knowingly participated in or helped execute a terrorist act, following the group’s involvement in the storming of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.
— McKinsey will pay $573 million to settle investigations into its role in the opioid crisis. The consultancy reached an agreement with 47 states and others over its role in helping to “turbocharge” opioid sales, though it didn’t admit wrongdoing. The settlement amount is more than it earned from opioid makers, and mostly has to be paid within 60 days.