Congress ‘Rushing’ to Complete Covid Aid, Omnibus Spending Measure

Posted on 12/18/2020 8:27 AM

Wasserman’s takeaways on 2020 House forecast | Biden’s climate change Cabinet | Whip+


In Today’s Updates


Market Focus:
WSJ survey: When winter ends, U.S. economy could be rebounding more swiftly
• End of pandemic more likely to lead to demand rationing than price increases
• Public procurement in Europe is turning decidedly in China’s direction
• Credit Suisse criminally charged in longstanding money-laundering case

• New white paper: Manufacturing outlook for 2021
• Strikes over pay by soybean crushers and grain inspectors in Argentina
• U.S soybean export sales total is now 90% of USDA’s projection
• Brazil’s weather offers improving rain chances mid next week
• Cryptocurrency having a banner week and huge year
• Soybeans shoot to six-year highs

• Argentine exchange says rains needed for soybean planting to resume

• Ukraine’s wheat crop down 11% from year-ago

• Rhine still too shallow for full loading in northern areas of Germany

• Japan’s use of corn in feed faded from September to October
• Philippines lifts ban on chicken from Brazil


Policy Focus:
• Lawmakers ‘rushing’ to get Covid aid, omnibus spending measure
• Food stamps, PPP latest hurdles re: Covid aid deal
• WHIP+ payment update


U.S./China update:
• White House adding China’s largest semiconductor manufacturer to export blacklist
• How will Biden re-think the U.S./China relationship?
• House Dems strip China provisions from Defense bill
• China’s big appetite for imported meat could be nearing an end


Energy & Climate Change:

• Review of Biden’s energy/climate change appointments

Food & beverage industry update:
• Cargill to close Ontario beef plant due to Covid-19 outbreak
• Meat packers across North America are bracing for a resurgence of coronavirus cases
• Covid cases in meatpacking counties were 10 times those in other rural counties
• New York City protects fast-food workers from being fired without cause
• Hazard pay for California grocery workers

Coronavirus update:
• FDA set to clear Moderna’s Covid-19 vaccine
• Lawmakers can receive Covid-19 vaccine on Capitol Hill
* EU to start vaccinating citizens against Covid-19 as soon as Dec. 27


Politics & Elections:
• Warnock's baggage at risk of weighing down Ossoff in other Georgia Senate race
• Congress girds for possible veto override votes on defense bill  
• Wasserman on five takeaways from 2020 House forecast; three resolutions ahead

Other Items of Note:
• Far-reaching cyber-attack




Equities today: Global stock markets were mixed, and U.S. stock indexes are also pointed toward narrowly mixed openings. The Bank of Japan at its monetary policy meeting said it would increase its bond purchases and extend its pandemic-relief program by six months. The Nikkei fell 42.38 points, 0.16%, at 26,763.39. The Hang Seng Index was down 179.78 points, 0.67%, at 26,498.60. European markets are mixed to firmer, with the Stoxx 600 nearly unchanged and other markets mixed and mostly 0.2% on either side of unchanged.


     U.S. equities yesterday: The Dow rose 148.83 points, 0.29%, at 30,303.37. The Nasdaq gained 106.56 points, 0.84%, at 12,764.75. The S&P 500 was up 21.31 points, 0.58%, at 3,722.48. The Dow posted its highest-ever closing level. Both the S&P 500 and Nasdaq hit intraday and closing records.


On tap today:


     • U.S. current account deficit is expected to widen to $186.9 billion in the third quarter from $170.5 billion in the prior quarter. (8:30 a.m. ET)
     • Conference Board's leading economic index for November is expected to increase 0.5% from the prior month. (10 a.m. ET)
     • Federal Reserve governor Lael Brainard speaks on climate change and financial regulation at 11:10 a.m. ET.
     • Baker Hughes rig count is out at 1 p.m. ET.
     • CFTC Commitments of Traders report, 3:30 p.m. ET.


By the time winter draws to a close, the U.S. economy could be rebounding more swiftly, according to a Wall Street Journal survey (link). Reasons: The combination of the number of people who will have already had Covid, plus the millions of Americans who will likely have been vaccinated by the end of the quarter, could start to mitigate the disease’s spread. As a result, the WSJ noted, a wide array of services businesses that have borne the brunt of the crisis could see demand return. More schools will return to in-person learning, freeing time for parents to work. Businesses, seeing where things are heading, will hire and spend in anticipation of customers’ return.


     WSJ survey


End of the pandemic is more likely to lead to demand rationing than price increases. "So, will there be inflation? Yes, if it’s defined as quality deterioration — more waiting — instead of higher prices. It will be strongest for unique goods whose supply is hard to augment, and for goods for which Covid has created pent-up demand. This will result in personal inconvenience for many Americans, but it won’t be a macroeconomic problem," George Mason University's Tyler Cowen writes at Bloomberg Opinion (link).


Public procurement in Europe is turning decidedly in China’s direction. Chinese state-backed companies have significantly increased their presence in the European Union’s rich market for public spending, the Wall Street Journal reports (link), taking a more prominent role in work that includes lucrative infrastructure projects across the region. The EU’s public-procurement market is among the world’s largest, valued at roughly $2.44 trillion annually. European companies say they are being priced out on their own turf for building roads and bridges by conglomerates owned or subsidized by Beijing. They accuse Chinese companies of predatory pricing with bids that are up to 30% below rival offers. The WSJ article says China’s inroads highlight “how Beijing’s ambition to build global commercial giants is upending industries world-wide and stinging European multinationals that once dominated global infrastructure markets.” Some of the contracts are going to Western firms that have been acquired by Chinese companies.


     China logistics


Credit Suisse criminally charged in longstanding money-laundering case. Credit Suisse Group was charged by Swiss prosecutors for allegedly failing to prevent money-laundering through the bank by clients and an employee, in a case stretching back more than a decade. The Swiss attorney general’s office said Credit Suisse in Zurich didn’t comply with provisions against money-laundering or the bank’s own internal rules between 2004 and 2008 in opening and monitoring customer accounts.


New white paper: Manufacturing outlook for 2021. The manufacturing sector struggled through the first half of 2020, with the coronavirus pandemic sending supply and demand on a seemingly nonstop roller-coaster ride and states issuing lockdowns that all but halted production in the spring. Lockdowns have now eased up, and many people have stopped hoarding toilet paper in favor of somewhat more typical buying habits. As a result, there is a nascent industrial recovery happening in the United States. FreightWaves partnered with Redwood Logistics to assess the current state of the manufacturing industry. The FreightWaves team surveyed manufacturers representing a large swatch of the sector about their outlook for the coming year. Link to access the complete white paper.


Market perspectives:


     • Outside markets: The U.S. dollar index is slightly up on a tepid bounce after hitting a 2.5-year low on Thursday. January Nymex crude oil futures prices are slightly lower and trading around $48.30 a barrel. The yield on the benchmark 10-year U.S. Treasury note futures is currently trading around 0.92%.


     •  Crude oil futures are weaker ahead of the U.S. trading start, lifting slightly from earlier losses. U.S. crude is trading around $48.30 per barrel and Brent around $51.30 per barrel. Crude oil was weaker in Asian action, with U.S. crude down 13 cents at $48.23 per barrel and Brent crude down 21 cents at $51.29 per barrel.

     • Strikes over pay by soybean crushers and grain inspectors in Argentina, the biggest supplier of soymeal used in feed, are in their second week. That’s shut down plants where beans are mashed into meal and all but halted operations at ports, with more than 100 ships waiting to load meal and other crops on the Parana River and Atlantic coast. Link to a Bloomberg article assessment of the situation. If the strikes drag on, buyers may have to turn to Argentina’s soy crushing rival, the United States. Argentina’s biggest clients are Vietnam, Indonesia, Spain, Algeria, Italy, Malaysia, Poland, Turkey and Iran, according to 2019 data from the South American nation’s Agriculture Ministry.


     • U.S soybean export sales total is now 90% of USDA’s projection. Think USDA's 2020-21 U.S. soybean export forecast is too low? Most in the trade think so. USDA's lagging World Board will eventually boost the estimate. Many are 25 to 70 million bushels higher.


     • Brazil’s weather offers improving rain chances mid next week.  Long term, forecasts are for Southern Brazil and Argentina to turn dry past this weekend. “The size of Brazil and Argentina crop have a big part of the upper value where beans may or may not go,” says one trader/analyst. “The private trade is trading a Brazil crop some 2 to 3 million tons smaller than USDA. Argentina’s crop is more of an unknown with only 75% planted,” he adds.


     Cryptocurrency is having a banner week and huge year. In the past day, the value of Bitcoin set a new high and the digital currency exchange Coinbase, the most valuable American crypto company, announced that it had filed for an IPO with the Securities and Exchange Commission.


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

     • Soybeans shoot to six-year highs
     • Argentine exchange says rains needed for soybean planting to resume
     • Ukraine’s wheat crop down 11% from year-ago
     • Rhine still too shallow for full loading in northern areas of Germany
     • Japan’s use of corn in feed faded from September to October
     • Philippines lifts ban on chicken from Brazil




—  Lawmakers ‘rushing’ to get Covid aid, omnibus spending measure done as food stamps, PPP latest hurdles. It looks like either another stopgap spending measure will be needed, or a short-term gov’t shut down will take place ahead of what is expected to be eventual resolution of remaining issues to thankfully end this Congress.


     Congressional leaders still want to link a roughly $900 billion Covid aid package with an omnibus spending bill for fiscal year 2021, which began Oct. 1. But as usual, several last-minute hurdles developed relative to the aid measure. They included demands by House Republican conservatives for restrictions on food stamps and objections to the deductibility of expenses used to get forgiveness of Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans.


     A decision on whether to pass another brief stopgap could be made this morning, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said. He pointed to Office of Management and Budget (OMB) guidelines that say a shutdown process won’t immediately start if passage of a spending bill is imminent, even if a presidential signature comes after the funding deadline. And even so, the practical effects of a weekend funding lapse are likely small. "I've heard they have three [draft stopgap bills] and they are trying to figure out how long of a CR (Continuing Resolution) they need in order to finish out the rest of our work," said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas).


     Bottom line: It’s not a question of if there will be a new “down payment” Covid aid package, but when and what it will ultimately entail.


— WHIP+ payment update. One participant in the program emailed: “I received notice this morning that 50% of my WHIP+ payment should arrive before the end of 2020, so payments have resumed. It is unknown if any additional portion of the remaining 50% will be honored, but it is not expected to be in 2020.”


     Comments: USDA had to seek an Office of Management and Budget (OMB) reapportionment in order to complete payments.  That was provided by OMB, so there has been a resumption of payments and producers should begin receiving early next week.  As for the second half, stay tuned.




White House is adding China’s largest semiconductor manufacturer to an export blacklist, restricting the company’s access to high-end technology, Reuters reports. The U.S. is set to add dozens of Chinese companies, including the country's top chipmaker SMIC 0981.HK, to a trade blacklist today, two people familiar with the matter told Reuters. The move is seen as another action by President Donald Trump to take tough actions on China ahead of the Biden administration taking office. The Commerce Department is expected to add around 80 additional companies and affiliates to the so-called entity list, the news service said, nearly all of them Chinese. China’s foreign ministry warned it would take "necessary measures" to protect companies rights. "We urge the U.S. to cease its mistaken behavior of unwarranted oppression of foreign companies," ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told a regular news conference in Beijing today.


— How will Biden re-think the U.S./China relationship? Among President-elect Joe Biden’s most pressing priorities when he takes office next month is resetting Washington’s relations with Beijing, after years of tit-for-tat escalation under President Trump. In the eighth and final debate in the New York Times’ DealBook D.C. Policy Project, they brought together academics, executives and other experts to discuss the state of the U.S./China relationship, and where it goes from here. Though Biden may change America’s negotiating style with China, “substance, in the short term, is likely to stay the same,” said Dina Powell McCormick of Goldman Sachs. Samm Sacks of New America and Yale said that he may adopt “a more targeted approach” rather than the sweeping moves of his predecessor. And Damien Ma of the Paulson Institute urged caution about advice Biden may receive to “become more like China to beat China” in areas like industrial policy. Link for more of the discussion.


— House Dems strip China provisions from Defense bill. House Democrats stripped down an anti-China bill that unanimously passed in the Senate by removing language reining in Chinese government influence on U.S. campuses. The Senate's National Defense Authorization Act included a provision that authorized the Department of Education to withhold funding from U.S. universities that host Chinese government-backed Confucius Institutes on campus. House Democrats removed the measure from the final version of the bill following negotiations. Link for details.


— China’s big appetite for imported meat could be nearing an end. Hog numbers in the world’s biggest pork producer are likely to fully recover from African swine fever by the first half of 2021. In the meantime, the government will release more pork from state reserves to bolster supply before the Lunar New Year festival in February.


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




— President-elect Joe Biden announces key energy/climate change appointments. Biden plans to nominate Michael Regan to lead the Environmental Protection Agency (details on Regan in next item) and Rep. Debra Haaland (D-N.M.) as Interior secretary. If confirmed, Haaland would be the first Native American Cabinet secretary. Haaland's role as Interior secretary could mark a turning point for an agency that has often had a bitter relationship with federally recognized tribes. Coming from a major oil-and-gas producing state, Haaland would assume the helm of a massive bureaucracy that manages federal land, offshore drilling and leasing, endangered species, mining cleanup, scientific research, geological studies, national parks and grazing. Her seat is considered safely Democratic. Haaland won re-election last month by 17 percentage points, after winning her first term by 23 points in 2018. Under state law, the secretary of state must schedule a special election within 10 days of the vacancy. The election would have to be held within three months.


     Biden, who has promised to take action against climate change, has been rolling out a series of picks for energy and environmental positions in recent days. He would be appointing the second Black EPA administrator in the agency’s 50-year history at a time when he wants the agency to put more emphasis on protecting minority and poor communities disproportionately affected by pollution. Biden has named several other people to his administration’s environmental team. Former EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy will work as a White House advisor on domestic climate policy, former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm will be nominated secretary of energy, former Secretary of State John Kerry will serve as a global climate envoy, and lawyer Brenda Mallory will reportedly be named chair of the Council on Environmental Quality.


     Josh Freed, senior vice president of the Climate and Energy Program at the left-center think tank Third Way, said Biden's picks underscored a new approach to consider climate change in actions across the government. “This is a whole-of-government approach that makes clear Biden will be building climate and clean energy action into every relevant policy and decision,” he said. “This includes the economy, environment, public health, workforce, labor, and racial justice, as well as national security and diplomacy.”


— Details on Michael Regan. President-elect Joe Biden tapped Michael Regan, currently Secretary of the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality, to be EPA administrator, and if confirmed, the first Black man and the second African American EPA administrator in the agency’s 50-year history at a time when he wants the agency to put more emphasis on protecting minority and poor communities disproportionately affected by pollution. (President Obama’s EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson was the first Black woman to run the agency, from 2009 to 2013.) Both Gina McCarthy and Lisa Jackson, who both ran EPA under President Obama, had been the heads of state environmental agencies; McCarthy in Massachusetts and Jackson in New Jersey.


     An experienced but not widely known state regulator, North Carolina’s top environmental official previously was a longtime air quality specialist at the EPA, working eight years under both the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations, Regan later worked for the Environmental Defense Fund, a nonprofit advocacy group. In 2017, Roy Cooper, a Democrat, defeated Gov. Pat McCrory, a Republican, in North Carolina and tapped Regan to lead the state environmental agency.


     Regan, 44, is from Goldsboro and graduated from North Carolina A&T University before earning a master’s degree at George Washington University. Regan lives in Raleigh with his family.


     He has been a key figure in helping North Carolina Governor Cooper carry out his pledge to achieve carbon neutrality in North Carolina by 2050, and oversees the state’s climate change interagency council, a working group of state agencies set up to meet that goal. In September, Regan outlined a plan that included cutting the power sector’s emissions to 70% below 2005 levels in the next decade and significantly ramping up clean energy development.


     In January, Regan’s agency struck a far-reaching settlement agreement with Duke Energy and environmental groups to require the utility to dispose of more than 76 million tons of submerged coal ash in lined landfills. It will be the nation’s largest coal ash excavation. “North Carolina’s communities have lived with the threat of coal ash pollution for too long,” Regan said in a statement at the time. “We are holding Duke accountable and will continue to hold them accountable for their actions as we protect public health, the environment and our natural resources.”


     Of note, Regan has been involved in implementing new monitoring requirements for hog operations. 


     National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) President Howard “AV” Roth, a hog farmer from Wauzeka, Wisconsin, said: “NPPC congratulates Michael Regan on his nomination. As DEQ secretary in North Carolina, a leading pork-producing state, he always had an open door, valued diverse points of view, and worked to find solutions that ensured science and data were guiding decisions. We hope those same qualities will be carried over to his leadership at EPA. We look forward to working with him on issues of importance to U.S. pork producers, as we continue to produce the highest-quality, most affordable and nutritious protein in the world.”


     The National Corn Growers Association said it “looks forward to working with Regan on issues of importance to corn farmers overseen by the EPA, most notably the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). The RFS was a game changer for corn farmers nearly 20 years ago but previous administrations have failed to uphold the law and implement it as Congress intended. NCGA hopes to have an open dialogue with the new Administrator upon his confirmation and work together to uphold the RFS, reduce emissions through greater use of biofuels, ensure farmers’ access to crop protection products based on sound science and seek practical solutions to issues important to agriculture.”




— Cargill to close Ontario beef plant due to Covid-19 outbreak. Cargill Inc. will temporarily close a beef processing plant in Guelph, Ontario, after 82 workers tested positive for the virus, with another 129 people self-isolating. The plant employs around 950 workers and processes around 1,500 cattle per day. The decision to close was voluntary and the company did not set a reopening date. It will finish processing meat currently in the facility to prevent waste, according to Jon Nash, Cargill's North America leader for protein. There were many plant closures over the spring across North America, but since then the implementation of new protective measures have helped curb the spread of the virus within facilities. Beef Farmers of Ontario have asked the Canadian and Ontario governments to activate a program that helps cover the cost of feeding cattle longer when slaughter capacity is not available.


— Meat packers across North America are bracing for a resurgence of coronavirus cases, trying to avoid the shutdowns that left some supermarket cases empty earlier in the pandemic, according to a Bloomberg article (link). Executives now say companies are better prepared, having spent millions of dollars to reconfigure factories, implement social distancing and distribute the protective equipment workers need to stay safe while keeping the food supply chain running.


— Covid cases in meatpacking counties were 10 times those in other rural counties. During the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic, rural meatpacking counties had infection rates 10 times higher than rates in other rural counties, USDA said Thursday. And despite improvements, the Covid-19 rate in the 49 U.S. counties that rely on meat plants for jobs remains somewhat higher than in the rest of rural America as the disease surges again. In its annual Rural America at a Glance report (link). USDA also said that rural residents, who make up 14% of the U.S. population, accounted for 27% of the Covid-19 deaths nationwide during the final three weeks of October. The report covered the pandemic and the accompanying recession from mid-March through Nov. 1.


     Some 3,818 people died of Covid-19 in rural counties last week, the sixth straight week with a record death toll, said the Daily Yonder (link). The rural death rate from the virus has exceeded the urban rate since early August. Around 100,000 people are employed by meatpackers in the 49 rural counties where the industry provides more than 20% of the jobs.


— New York City protects fast-food workers from being fired without cause. The bill, passed yesterday, makes New York the first American city to offer such job security to an industry of that size. Labor law experts say it could provide a template for others. Link to more from the New York Times.


— Hazard pay for California grocery workers. The Long Beach City Council voted unanimously to draft an ordinance mandating paying grocery workers an additional $4 an hour for the next four months because of the pandemic. Separately, the Los Angeles City Council is considering a motion for a $5-an-hour raise for workers at grocery chains with at least 300 employees. Link to Los Angeles Times article.




 Summary: Global cases of Covid-19 are at 75,051,016 with 1,663,740 deaths, according to data compiled by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University. The U.S. case count is at 17,213,887 with 310,782 deaths.

       Link to Covid Case Tracker
       Link to Our World in Data


— FDA set to clear Moderna’s Covid-19 vaccine. An independent advisory panel to the Food and Drug Administration on Thursday recommended that the agency authorize a vaccine for Covid-19 developed by Moderna and the National Institutes of Health. The agency is now set to consider announcing an emergency use authorization as soon as today. After the advisory committee voted to recommend the first vaccine a week ago, the FDA granted emergency authorization the next day.


     Meanwhile, states have received fewer doses of Pfizer’s vaccine than expected, which the company suggested was because the Trump administration hadn’t told it where to send them.


— Lawmakers can receive Covid-19 vaccine on Capitol Hill. The Capitol’s Office of the Attending Physician is scheduling appointments for lawmakers to receive Covid-19 vaccines, with select staff to follow. “There is no reason why you should defer receiving this vaccine,” Attending Physician Brian P. Monahan wrote in a letter to House members and staff. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said they would get vaccinated within days to ensure the continuity of government during the pandemic.


— European Union intends to start vaccinating citizens against Covid-19 as soon as Dec. 27.




—  Warnock's baggage at risk of weighing down Ossoff in other Georgia Senate race, according to Washington Examiner’s political reporter Naomi Lim. Link for details.


— Congress girds for possible veto override votes on defense bill. Lawmakers are looking ahead to casting politically charged override votes of an anticipated veto by President Donald Trump of the fiscal 2021 defense policy bill (HR 6395). But given how easily it passed — 335-78 in the House and 84-13 in the Senate — even if a few GOP members defect, the override effort would succeed. Trump has until Dec. 23 to veto the bill or it will become law without his signature. If he vetoes it at the last minute, Congress could have to return early, if briefly, from the holiday recess to vote to override it.'


— Cook Political Report House editor David Wasserman on Five Takeaways from Our 2020 House Forecast — and Three Resolutions for 2021 and Beyond. Wasserman writes, “Our approach to rating races in 2020 was the same as in the past: we construct our analysis based on recent election results and trends, publicly available polling and fundraising data, and hundreds of off-the-record conversations with candidates, party committees, outside groups, pollsters, consultants and state-based journalists. And yet, this time much of it led us and [many] others astray. So, what happened? And what lessons can we draw for 2022? With the benefit of a month to reflect, here are five takeaways from 2020's surprises and three lessons for how we might recalibrate our approach for the next cycle.” The following are the bottom-line five reasons, with Wasserman providing details for each one.

  1. Polls that guided both parties' decision-making missed the mark — with remarkable consistency.
  2. Much as in 2016, President Trump atop the ballot was actually the best of both worlds for congressional Republicans.
  3. Republicans' recruitment 180 paid big dividends.
  4. Republicans' attacks on "socialism" and "defund the police" were potent — and Democrats didn't do enough to blunt them.
  5. It's possible there was a late GOP surge that polls missed.

     As for lessons for 2021 and beyond, Wasserman pledged:

  1. The "fundamentals" deserve at least as much weight as the polls.
  2. It's worth incorporating more voices outside the Beltway.
  3. Patience is a virtue — especially next cycle.



— Far-reaching cyber-attack. The suspected Russian hack involving SolarWinds software that compromised parts of the U.S. government was executed with a scope and sophistication that has surprised even veteran security experts. Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) asked the IRS to immediately provide them with a briefing about the SolarWinds hack that has ripped through several federal agencies. American officials warned that the attack — thought to be linked to the Kremlin and now believed to have targeted nuclear labs and private tech companies, in addition to the Commerce, Defense, Treasury and USDA departments — presents “a grave risk to the federal government.” Experts are taken aback by the hack’s scope and sophistication: Microsoft’s president, Brad Smith, called it “a moment of reckoning.” Officials say the attack went undetected for nearly nine months, allowing the hackers free range in the affected networks.



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