Some WTO Members Focus on Huge U.S. Gov't Payments to Farmers

Posted on 09/24/2020 7:20 AM

Perdue on U.S. ag sales to China | Calif. governor wants to phase out gas-powered cars in state by 2035


In Today’s Updates


Market Focus:
* Lawmakers think they know better than Fed officials re: need for more stimulus
* While U.S. growth continued, the pace faltered in Europe and Asia
* U.S. oil demand rose last week
* JPMorgan Chase & Co. to pay big to resolve market manipulation investigations
* Germany finds more ASF cases in wild boars
* CFTC panel to get update on farm finances, S. American soybean futures contract
* U.S. junk bonds set annual sales record
* Insurers won't deal with vessels involved in two Russian-led gas pipeline projects


Policy Focus:
* WTO members ask about huge U.S. farm subsidies at WTO
* California governor moves to pull plug on gas vehicles
* Biofuel lobbyists comment on industry issues


U.S./China update:
* Sen. Warner on China's cutting-edge technology
* China/Australia tensions continue
* China reports mixed data on hog, pork prices
* China buys a lot of U.S. farm products, but Perdue wants shipments

U.S. food & beverage industry update:
* Quarterly sales at General Mills rose 10% but...
* Mars to rebrand Uncle Ben’s rice to Ben’s Original

Update on re-opening America... and around the world:
* Disney said it would change the release dates for 10 upcoming films

Coronavirus update:
* France added to growing list of countries tightening restrictions
* Trudeau: Canada is already in second wave of coronavirus
* Fauci: one or more safe and effective vaccines by end of year or early 2021
* Trump: could overrule any tightening of U.S. rules for emergency clearance
* CDC director: more than 90% of Americans remain susceptible to coronavirus
* U.K. to test vaccines on volunteers deliberately infected with Covid-19


Politics & Elections:
* Likely Senate timeline for Supreme Court nominee
* Trump won’t commit to peaceful transfer of power if he loses

* Presidential, key Senate races getting close
* New data-rich interactive tool for the 2020 election

Other Items of Note:
* USDA's FSA will spot check CFAP 2 payments, other details
* Wheeler warns New York’s violence may force EPA to leave
* 1 in 10 adults report lacking enough food for household at some point last week
* House Democrat wants major TPA/fast-track reforms




Equities today: Asia’s major benchmarks closed lower as negative sentiment spread, European markets were mixed in midday trading and U.S. stock futures were nearly flat. Some are citing Federal Reserve board members' unanswered pleas for added fiscal stimulus as the latest trigger, amid a backdrop of growing Covid-19 infections around the world. The S&P 500 on Wednesday fell the most in two weeks, a sign that investors are becoming more downbeat on prospects for a new aid package.


     U.S. equities yesterday: The Dow dropped 525.05 points, 1.92%, at 26,763.13. The Nasdaq declined 330.65 points, 3.02%, at 10,632.99. The S&P 500 fell 78.65 points, 2.37%, at 3,236.92.


On tap today:


     • USDA Weekly Export Sales report, 830 a.m. ET.
     • U.S. jobless claims for the week ended Sept. 19, due at 8:30 a.m. ET, are expected to fall to 850,000 from 860,000 a week earlier.
     • U.S. new-home sales for August, due at 10 a.m., are expected to fall to an annual pace of 898,000 from 901,000 a month earlier.
     • Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell testify to the Senate Banking Committee at 10 a.m. ET.
     • Bank of England Gov. Andrew Bailey speaks at a business leaders webinar at 10 a.m. ET.
     • Federal Reserve: Dallas’s Robert Kaplan speaks to Texas Christian University at 8:50 a.m., Chicago’s Charles Evans speaks to the Illinois Chamber of Commerce at 1 p.m., Richmond’s Thomas Barkin speaks at a Money Marketeers of New York University virtual event at 1 p.m., Atlanta’s Raphael Bostic speaks to a forum for minorities in banking at 2 p.m., New York’s John Williams speaks at a New York Fed webinar at 2 p.m., and Barkin speaks to the Baltimore City Chamber of Commerce at 2 p.m.
     • Bank of Mexico releases a policy statement at 2 p.m. ET.


Lawmakers think they know better than Fed officials regarding the need for more stimulus. Federal Reserve officials continue to encourage Congress to agree on another Covid aid/stimuus package because while low interest rates and bond-buying programs can make it easy for companies to borrow money and stay afloat, they can't create demand. That takes fiscal policy, and there seems to be little chance of compromise on a stimulus bill in Washington. “The narrative that now better fits the fact pattern, in our view, is that both parties see less risk with ‘no deal’ than a deal on the other’s terms,” wrote Morgan Stanley’s head of public policy research, Michael Zezas.


     Those at the Fed expressing a need for another relief package:


     • Chairman Jerome Powell: “The power of fiscal policy is really unequaled by anything else.”
     • Chicago Fed President Charles Evans said his projection for sub-6% unemployment by the end of next year had been premised on around $1 trillion in additional fiscal relief. “If that doesn’t happen, then I think it’s going to be a lot harder, and much more unlikely that we make that much progress.”
     • Boston Fed President Eric Rosengren: “This is a time where a delay in fiscal policy, I think, is much more economically impactful than what we do.”
     • Cleveland President Loretta Mester said the recovery would need continued support from Fed policy makers and broader government actions. “It’s not a sustainable recovery, it’s still fragile.”


While U.S. growth continued, the pace faltered in Europe and Asia, where new Covid-19 infections have led to new restrictions on activity. Manufacturing broadly improved — eurozone factory output increased at the fastest pace since February 2018 — but activity in consumer-facing service industries either decelerated or contracted, weighing heavily on overall growth.




Market perspectives:


     • Outside markets: U.S. dollar index is slightly up and hitting another two-month high overnight. Nymex crude oil prices are near steady and trading around $40.00. Meantime, the yield on the U.S. Treasury 10-year note is trading around 0.67% today.


     • Crude oil prices are essentially flat ahead of the U.S. trading start, lifting from losses overnight. U.S. crude is trading around $39.95 and Brent crude around $42.30 per barrel. Prices moved lower in Asian trading with U.S. crude falling 42 cents at $39.51 per barrel and Brent crude down 34 cents at $41.43 per barrel.


     • U.S. oil demand rose last week to 18.4 million barrels per day compared to 17 million b/d the week prior, the EIA reported Wednesday in its Weekly Petroleum Status report. Gasoline demand rose week-on-week, but is still down about 9% from the same period last year. Jet fuel consumption continues to lag, sitting about 45% below last year’s mark. EIA also reported a 1.6 million barrel decrease in commercial crude inventories, an easing of the market glut that helped oil prices slightly rise this morning (but still hovering in the low $40s per barrel).

     • JPMorgan Chase & Co. is poised to pay close to $1 billion to resolve market manipulation investigations by U.S. authorities into its trading of metals futures and Treasury securities, Bloomberg reported, citing three people with knowledge of the matter. The potential record for a settlement involving alleged spoofing could be announced as soon as this week, said the people. Spoofing typically involves flooding derivatives markets with orders that traders don’t intend to execute to trick others into moving prices in a desired direction.


     • Germany finds more ASF cases in wild boars. Germany’s ag ministry said that three cases of African swine fever (ASF) have been confirmed in wild boars in the eastern German state of Brandenburg, bringing total cases in wild boars to 32. No pig farms have been affected by ASF, officials said.


     • CFTC panel to get update on farm finances, South American soybean futures contract. The Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) holds a meeting of its Agricultural Advisory Committee today and will receive an update on farm financial conditions as the Kansas City Fed is to present its second quarter agricultural loan data to the panel, according to an agenda for the session. Also on the slate is an update from the CFTC Livestock Task Force and on the CME Group’s South American Soybean Futures Contract.


     • U.S. junk bonds set annual sales record. U.S. high-yield bond issuance for 2020 has eclipsed the prior annual sales record of $329.6B set in 2012, according to data compiled by Bloomberg, as companies reap the benefits of the Fed's liquidity-boosting and zero-interest rate policies.


     • The world’s largest group of shipping insurers won't insure vessels involved in two Russian-led gas pipeline projects because of the threat of U.S. sanctions.




If some U.S. farmers wonder if massive U.S. gov't (taxpayer) payments will continue, think what other countries are saying. They are sounding the alarm over U.S. farm subsidies at the World Trade Organization (WTO). Former USDA chief economist Joe Glauber (now a senior fellow at the International Food Policy Research Institute) has warned that the billions of dollars paid to U.S. farmers in two trade mitigation programs and Covid-19 aid would get WTO member nations' attention. It has. Canada, the EU, India, Australia, Brazil, Paraguay, New Zealand, Uruguay, Paraguay and Colombia have noted international market distortions. They want the U.S. to explain the around $34 billion in what they consider trade-distorting payments in 2019. The WTO cap for those “amber box” subsidies is $19.1 billion. The countries also raised the latest up to $14 billion CFAP 2 program announced last Friday. Glauber expects U.S. amber box subsidies to reach $40 billion this year, more than double the annual limit.


     The income aid is adding up. Even before CFAP 2's announcement, USDA projected total payments to farmers in 2020 would be $37.2 billion.


     "It's hard rolling back these things," Glauber told Politico in July. "The headlines are going to scream when [USDA] puts out a February 2021 farm income forecast that doesn't show any ad hoc payments."


     Glauber, a frequent critic of Trump and recent USDA programs, has previously said Trump “took actions that cost U.S. farmers a lot of money, and potentially have a lot of long-term downsides. But you can have as bad of a policy as you want, if you can silence the critics by giving them a bunch of money.”


     Carl Zulauf, an agricultural economics professor at Ohio State University, said there are four options for farm policy: providing ad hoc assistance; rewriting the existing safety net to increase assistance; allowing the cost of production to adjust downward; or artificially expanding demand.


     Joe Janzen, an assistant professor at agricultural economics at the University of Illinois, found in a recent study that the long-term harms caused by the Trump administration’s trade policies are likely going to outweigh the benefits, but the ad hoc payments make up for the policies right now. “This is probably supporting farm profits and supporting land values in the short run, and it keeps things going for a short but indefinite period of time,” he said. “One way you could justify large ad hoc payments is you’re paying for those damages up front,” Janzen said.


     Glauber said the aid doesn’t actually help farmers as much as landowners and other industries from whom farmers buy inputs — or supplies like seeds, fertilizers and pesticides. “I think it means a lot less than you might think. It’s good if you own the land. If you’re renting land it’s more of a wash,” Glauber said, according to the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting.


     Washington officials defended their actions, saying the additional farm payments are designed to minimize market impacts and are meant to mitigate the economic fallout from the coronavirus. The U.S. didn’t directly address charges about China-related payments and the Phase 1 accord.


     Perspective: House Ag Chairman Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) and Senate Ag Chairman Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) have both recently said the 2018 Farm Bill should not be re-opened. But the debate on the next farm bill has already begun, they just don't know it.


California governor wants to phase out gas-powered cars in state by 2035. A new executive order from California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) seeks to phase out the use of gas-powered cars in the state by only allowing the sale of zero-emissions passenger cars and trucks by 2035. The executive order also aims to require medium- and heavy-duty vehicles in the state to be zero-emissions by 2045. The executive order follows another terrible season of wildfires that have taken dozens of lives, destroyed property and left California with sickening air quality.


     Newsom comments. “When we are looking to achieve our audacious goals to get to a 100% carbon-free economy by 2045, we can’t get there unless we accelerate our efforts in the transportation sector,” Newsom told reporters on Wednesday. “In the next 15 years we will eliminate in the state of California the sales of internal combustion engines. We will move forward to green and decarbonize our vehicle fleet... substantially reducing greenhouse gas emissions as well as oxide nitrogen, in so doing, we’ll improve air quality and improve the economic climate here in the state of California,” he added.


     The governor argued that this would help California's economy, citing the fact that electric vehicles are some of the state’s largest exports and arguing that expanding this industry would create jobs. He praised some automakers but said that others were not on board with California's plans.


     No fracking by 2024. Newsom's executive order also includes a provision to no longer issue new permits for oil and gas fracking by 2024. "We will be directing and working... on a legislative strategy to begin the phaseout formally of fracking," he said, saying that this would occur in the new legislative session beginning in January. But he stopped short of directing his own oil and gas regulators to stop approving fracking permits — drawing frustration from environmentalists, who have increased their criticism of Newsom on fracking in recent days, especially as the governor has emphasized California's role in fighting climate change.


     The fuel industry said the move exceeds Newsom's authority and would harm consumers.


     National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow said that he did not expect California's announcement to "spread" to other states, and instead said it seemed like "a very extreme" position. "I don't think we should be taking any steps to get rid of fossil fuels, for example," he said. "And by the way, there should be consumer choice for all automobiles and that includes electric automobiles."


     Link for more on the plan from the San Francisco Chronicle.


     Perspective: Seventeen countries including France, the U.K. and Germany have also adopted goals to phase out the internal combustion engine, according to the International Council on Clean Transportation.


Biofuel lobbyists comment on industry issues.


     • EPA’s move to reject 54 so-called “gap year” small refinery exemption (SRE) petitions is a welcome development, but the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) and its ag and biofuel group allies say the Trump administration must follow through on other commitments to the sector, stressing those moves will be closely watched by stakeholders as the Nov. 3 elections loom. “I want to underscore just how big of a deal that that really is,” RFA President and CEO Geoff Cooper said of EPA’s petition denials during a joint Sept. 23 press briefing. “It was great news, and a big step forward on the path to restoring integrity to the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS).” Cooper was also joined on the call by National Corn Growers Association (NCGA) President Kevin Ross, American Coalition for Ethanol (ACE) CEO Brian Jennings and National Farmers Union (NFU) Biofuels Advisor Anne Steckel, each whose groups are co-plaintiffs with RFA in the SRE case.


     • Another 14 gap-year requests are still pending review by the Department of Energy (DOE), and Cooper said once the department provides its recommendations to EPA the agency “needs to reject those, the second they come through the front door.”


     • On appeal by refiners of the 10th Circuit decision to the Supreme Court, attorney Matt Morrison of the law firm Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman, outside council for RFA in the case, said odds are the Supreme Court will not take up the case — leaving the lower court ruling to stand. "Statistically, there's about a 1% chance that the petition will be granted… so it’s not that likely,” he observed.


     • $15 billion gallon commitment: Even with the gap-year SRE controversy receding, Cooper said the Trump administration should now refocus on fulfilling commitments it made following a White House meeting last year. Those promises were ensuring 15 billion gallons of ethanol are blended into the fuel supply each year, streamlining rules to expand the availability of E15 (15% ethanol/85% gasoline), considering reforms to the market for Renewable Identification Number (RIN) blending credits, promoting infrastructure for higher ethanol blends and working to address ethanol and biodiesel trade issues.


     Only the infrastructure commitment has been met so far, Cooper commented. He again urged the coming RVOs also include an additional 500 million gallons of ethanol as called for under a 2017 ruling by the US Circuit Court for the District of Columbia.


     Jennings said EPA “needs to quit stalling” on implementing the ruling with NCGA’s Ross adding that applying the ruling nationwide and bringing more transparency to the SRE process going forward “would go a long way to inject some confidence into the rural ag economy.”


     • On the administration’s commitment to improve the trade situation for ethanol and biodiesel, Cooper lamented, “We haven't seen much progress there.” He said U.S. ethanol exporters remain “frozen out of China” despite the Phase 1 U.S./China agreement “and we're going backwards in other markets like Brazil, where we've seen them playing games with their tariff rate quota (TRQ).” He added that Columbia, Mexico and Peru have also erected new trade barriers against ethanol.


     • 2021 RVOs. The groups expressed disappointment EPA has yet to offer a rule for public comment, with Jennings calling the situation “unacceptable” which adds uncertainty in the biofuels sector. EPA’s proposed 2021 biofuel and 2022 biodiesel RVOs are still shown as being under review at the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) even though the agency sent the measure forward for review on mid-May.


     • Covid-19 aid for ethanol sector still needed. Aid for the ethanol sector continues to be a priority for RFA and other groups. Time to pass another relief package before the elections is dwindling and Cooper acknowledged momentum appears to have “fizzled out,” with the focus shifting to a stopgap spending plan and the replacement of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg after her death late last week.


     There is still a need for aid, Cooper stressed. The sector has “seen some recovery, but we're still 15% or so below year ago production levels,” he said, remarking that some plants remain idled and workers furloughed due to a reduction in demand linked to the pandemic. “There are some ethanol plants in the country that lost more money over the course of March and April of this year than they made in 2018 [or 2019], and so the hit the financial hit has been devastating,” added Jennings.


     Cooper and Jennings both lauded aid included in the House-passed HEROES Act and a direct biofuels relief bill offered by Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) in the Senate.


     • CCC funds for refiners, ethanol producers. CCC funds “should be reserved for agriculture,” insisted Cooper, with Ross calling it “an absurd notion to have funds from USDA… be proposed to go to any refiners.” Both agreed that the plan was a non-starter. The House-passed CR bill includes restrictions on CCC funds for “big oil” but Republicans blocked additional Democratic-pushed restrictions on the CCC. Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) said: "There’s nothing that we can find in there for Big Oil, or small oil, or anything.” USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue early last week said there is no authority to tap CCC funding for oil companies, small or large, meaning the prohibition is just a talking point.


     Meanwhile, Cooper said RFA continues to “believe USDA has the authority already to use some of its existing resources through the [CCC] to provide assistance to biofuel producers.” He cited “numerous cases in the past where CCC resources have been used to help the renewable fuels industry,” noting CCC is “the vehicle” for investments in biofuel infrastructure at retail gas stations.


     • Election priorities. With the November presidential election potentially hinging on Midwestern states like Minnesota, Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin, Cooper predicted biofuel policy is a “wedge issue” that could matter in a close race. For ethanol “champions” in tight re-election races like Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst (R), Ross said action the administration could take on biofuels “is very supportive for the folks that are champions there in DC, and would certainly give some more clarity to the support [for biofuels] that they so often talk about” from President Trump. He added that while NCGA and state affiliates do not endorse individual candidates, they “have absolutely been supportive of Sen. Ernst because of her efforts, as well as others.”


     Steckel said NFU was “pleased” when Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden recently issued a statement hitting the Trump administration on biofuels and vowing to uphold the RFS. “We feel very confident that should there be a Biden administration, we would able to be able to work with them,” she stated. However, Ross said NCGA has “a few concerns” with the Biden campaign’s focus on electric vehicles. “So, I think there's work to be done there, obviously, but definitely some things that we need to emphasize within their campaign as well,” he commented. Relative to the Trump campaign, Cooper said the president has shown a “very good” understanding of “the rural economic benefits, the benefits to the farm economy, of a of a strong and healthy biofuels industry.”


     Perspective: The groups did not address the most important issue ahead for biofuels: What is the strategy for dealing with the 2022 authorization end for the RFS. That debate will begin in earnest in 2021. Another issue briefly touched on but on another front is the rising number of electric vehicles in the United States and the eventual impact on gasoline consumption which is the key determinant of ethanol demand. Also, no reaction from the groups on a new executive order from California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) seeking to phase out the use of gas-powered cars in the state by only allowing the sale of zero-emissions passenger cars and trucks by 2035. Some ethanol industry lobbyists do not look ahead very much, and these are examples of that.


Update on China:

  • Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) says China has shown that cutting-edge technology and economic expansion are possible within authoritarian-state capitalism. So how do you stop the country from dominating the global tech industry? Warner, a former governor of Virginia, has laid out an alternative strategy: set standards on where interacting with China poses unacceptable risks to national security, get allies on board, and then pour the necessary resources into building up Western alternatives to Chinese companies, the Wall Street Journal reports (link).

    China tech

  • China/Australia tensions continue. China has barred entry of two Australian scholars that the country has labeled “anti-China,” according to the Global Times newspaper. The report said China took the action to bar the decision to bar Clive Hamilton and Alex Joske after Australia revoked the visas of two Chinese scholars over "alleged infiltration" in early September. China’s foreign ministry did not confirm the action, but spokesman Wang Wenbin told a regular briefing that China has the right to ban any foreign national. He further said Australia is to blame for recent issues in the China/Australia relationship. "We firmly oppose any acts to deliberately attack China, endanger China's national security, or spread disinformation under the pretext of studies and other academic activities,” spokesman Wang Wenbin said.
  • China reports mixed data on hog, pork prices. Live pig prices in China declined 4.1% in mid-September compared with the prior 10 days, according to data from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS). Data released by the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs indicated the whole prices of pork in were up 0.7% with overall wholesale prices of ag products higher, according to Xinhua. Meanwhile, this comes as Reuters reported that prices for pork rib dishes have climbed in the wake of the cutoff of imports of pork from Germany due to the confirmation of African swine fever (ASF) in the country. Germany shipped some 20,000 tonnes of spareribs to China in May, according to the consulting firm Meat International Group, which also said that spare rib prices rose to 44 yuan per kilo (about $2.92 per pound) from 38 yuan per kilo last week. Reports indicated domestic back ribs were priced at 52 yuan per kilo.
  • China buys a lot of U.S. farm products, but Perdue wants shipments. USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue says he is hopeful that China can meet its purchase commitments of U.S. farm products via the Phase 1 trade deal by February (even though the accord is on a calendar year basis). Perdue said “it is going to be tough to meet those numbers ($36.5 billion first year). This is just purely a guess; we may reach it by the end of January before Brazil and South America come back into the marketplace.” While there are hefty export sales on the books, Perdue said he wants to see shipments, saying China is known for booking and later cancelling sales. “It does appear they are trying, but it remains to be seen if we will make those numbers or not.”
  • U.S./China Phase 1 tracker: China’s purchases of U.S. goods. Link.

Food and beverage industry update:

  • Quarterly sales at General Mills rose 10% but the food supplier says the coronavirus-fueled surge in grocery sales is waning. Link to WSJ for more.
  • Mars announced that it will rebrand Uncle Ben’s rice to Ben’s Original and remove the image of an older Black man smiling on the box. It’s the latest example of companies revamping or retiring brands criticized for trading on racist stereotypes, including Aunt Jemima, Cream of Wheat and Mrs. Butterworth’s.

Update on reopening America... and around the world:

  • Disney said it would change the release dates for 10 upcoming films, postponing the Marvel spinoff "Black Widow" until May and delaying Steven Spielberg’s remake of "West Side Story" by one year to December 2021.

Coronavirus update:

  • Summary: Source: Johns Hopkins University as of 6:30 a.m. ET

    — 31,914,770: Confirmed cases world-wide, and 977,109 deaths
    — 37,330: New U.S. cases recorded yesterday
    — 6,935,415: Total confirmed cases in the U.S.
    — 1,098: Deaths in the U.S. recorded yesterday
    — 201,920: Total U.S. deaths
    — 97,459,742: Tests conducted in the U.S.

    Link to Covid Case Tracker

    Link to Our World in Data

  • France added to the growing list of countries to tighten restrictions to curb the spread of the coronavirus. Health Minister Olivier Veran announced bars and restaurants in Marseilles and Aix-en-Provence will shut down while in Paris gatherings of more than 10 people will be banned and pubs will have to close early.
  • Trudeau: Canada is already in second wave of coronavirus. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is warning Canadians that the second wave has arrived in many parts of the country. “We’re on the brink of a fall that could be much worse than the spring,” Trudeau said Wednesday. “It’s all too likely we won’t be gathering for Thanksgiving [Oct. 12], but we still have a shot at Christmas.”
  • Dr. Anthony Fauci said there’s “growing optimism” that scientists will find one or more safe and effective vaccines by the end of the year or early 2021. Fauci said vaccine doses will be rolled out over the coming months and the U.S. should have 700 million doses by April. “In November you’ll probably be maybe 50 million doses available. By December maybe another 100-plus million. And then you get into January and February. By the time you get to April, it’ll be a total of about 700 million,” he told a Senate Appropriations Subcommittee hearing. “They will be rolling in as the months go by and by the time you get to maybe the third or fourth month of 2021, then you’ll have doses for everyone.”
  • President Donald Trump signaled he could overrule any tightening of U.S. rules for the emergency clearance of a coronavirus vaccine, a move that Democrats and others say could increase concerns that the race to find a shot is being politicized ahead of the presidential election.

    "Decisions to authorize or approve any such vaccine or therapeutic will be made by the dedicated career staff at FDA... and science will guide our decisions," Dr. Stephen Hahn, the commissioner of the FDA, told the Senate Health Committee on Wednesday.

  • CDC director says more than 90% of Americans remain susceptible to the coronavirus. A majority of the U.S. remains susceptible to a coronavirus infection, Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told lawmakers Wednesday. Covid-19 has spread across America at varying rates since it crossed U.S. shores in January, infecting as much as 15% to 20% of the population in some states and less than 1% in others, he said. He said the CDC is in the process of a “very large” study that seeks to more precisely determine how widely the virus has spread across the country.

    Most scientists say 60% to 80% of the population needs to be vaccinated or develop antibodies through natural infection to achieve herd immunity.

  • U.K. to test vaccines on volunteers deliberately infected with Covid-19. London is to host the world’s first Covid-19 human challenge trials — in which healthy volunteers are deliberately infected with coronavirus to assess the effectiveness of experimental vaccines. The U.K. government-funded studies are expected to begin in January at a secure quarantine facility in east London, the Financial Times reported, citing several people involved in the project, which will be announced next week. Volunteers will be inoculated with a vaccine and a month or so later receive a “challenge” dose of Sars-Cov-2, the virus that causes Covid-19, under controlled conditions. About 2,000 potential volunteers have signed up for challenge studies in the U.K. through the U.S.-based advocacy group 1Day Sooner.
  • Americans have lost $145 million to coronavirus-linked frauds, according to the Federal Trade Commission. Link to more from the NYT.




  • Links
    2020 Presidential Election Interactive Map
    The Green Papers
    Real Clear Politics
    2020 Political Atlas
    — Presidential debates: Scheduled to occur Sept. 29, Oct. 15 and Oct. 22.
    — VP debate: Scheduled for Oct. 7.
    Days until election (40 days to Nov. 3)

  • Likely Senate timeline for Supreme Court nominee: The Judiciary Committee could hold hearings the week of Oct. 10. The committee could potentially approve the nomination by Oct. 22, and a full Senate vote could happen around Oct. 26. Election Day is Nov. 3.
  • Trump again refuses to commit to peaceful transfer of power. Donald Trump refused to commit to a peaceful transfer of power if he loses the election. “We’re going to have to see what happens,” the president said when asked at a Wednesday news conference. Trump repeated his mantra that the ballots being posted to millions of voters — to avoid having to vote in-person during the coronavirus pandemic — was an “out of control” disaster that would skew the result. Joe Biden, his Democratic rival, this week said he would accept the result. Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), a former Republican presidential nominee, slammed Trump for refusing to commit to a peaceful transfer of power. “Fundamental to democracy is the peaceful transition of power. Without that, there is Belarus,” he tweeted. “Any suggestion that a president might not respect this constitutional guarantee is both unthinkable and unacceptable.”

    Another viewpoint: In The Atlantic’s current cover story — “The Election That Could Break America” — Barton Gellman reports, citing unnamed sources, that Trump’s re-election campaign has held discussions with state officials about potentially bypassing election results. Link.

  • President Trump is narrowing the gap with Democratic challenger Joe Biden in some key states. In Arizona, Trump is now up over Biden by 1 point (likely voters); in Florida the president is up by 4 points, according to a new ABC News/Washington Post pol taken Sept. 15-20. But most polls continue to show Biden besting Trump to get to 270 electoral votes.

    In the Senate, toss-up races include Iowa, Montana, South Carolina and one of Georgia's two contests. Some experts see a 50/50 final count, with the vice president breaking ties, making the presidential race even more important.

  • Today, SurveyMonkey and Tableau, in partnership with Axios, are launching a data-rich interactive tool for the 2020 election. It features self-service visual analytics that will allow us — and you — to go deep to examine variables, including voting intentions by race and age, that could determine the election. The tool tracks the Trump vs. Biden race nationally and at the state level. But it also offers a closer look at what really drives voter differences on everything from approval to the environment to immigration. Results can be filtered by location, time period, party ID, and other variables such as race, gender, age, education level, issue and intensity of response. Link to tool.



  • USDA's Farm Service Agency (FSA) always has spot checks with its programs to make sure there is no fraud or other glitches. The CFAP 2 program will be no exception, with FSA county offices pulling a certain percentage of producers. The exact percentage is not yet determined.
  • Wheeler warns New York’s violence may force EPA to leave. EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said he will consider moving the agency’s Region 2 office out of New York City due to ongoing protests and violence in Lower Manhattan. In a Tuesday letter to New York Mayor Bill DeBlasio (D) and Governor Andrew Cuomo (D), Wheeler said he was concerned about the “destructive impacts associated with continued demonstrations” near the office. “I have an obligation to our employees, and if the city is unwilling or incapable of doing its job” to protect federal workers, “I will do mine,” the EPA administrator wrote.
  • One in 10 adults report lacking enough food for their household at some point in the last week. New government data also points to much higher hunger rates among families of color than white households.
  • House Democrat wants major TPA/fast-track reforms. Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), the head of the House Ways and Means subcommittee on trade, said he would seek to curtail the president’s Trade Promotion Authority (TPA or fast-track) power if the next administration does not work more closely with Congress. Blumenauer told a webinar audience Wednesday the Trump White House had “abused the authority delegated to it by Congress” in the TPA, which allows the president to negotiate new trade deals that Congress can approve or deny, but not amend. “If we see the same high-end approach from whoever is in power in 2021, I will be leading efforts to radically rethink Congress’ traditional delegation of trade authority to the executive,” Blumenauer said. The current TPA expires on July 1 of next year.


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