Biden’s USDA Gets Political with Latest CRP Announcement

Posted on 02/08/2021 5:31 AM

Next Covid aid package later rather than sooner; late Feb. or early March

 


In Today’s Digital Newspaper


 

Market Focus:
• USDA’s first 2021 farm income forecast could be its lowest of year… again
• Volatility in markets declined last week
• U.S. lumber futures are heading higher… again
• Yellen: U.S. could return to full employment next year if lawmakers pass aid package
• Brent-crude futures above $60 a barrel for first time since January 2020
• Gasoline prices on the rise

 

Policy Focus:
• CRP general signup extended, tinged with politics
• When is Biden‘s USDA going to implement CFAP programs on pause?
• Biden thinks he may to split minimum wage proposal off from main aid bill
• Some concessions likely for next stimulus checks
• Senior Democrats to unveil new $3,000-per-child benefit
• Timeline for next Covid aid package… later rather than sooner

 

Biden Administration Personnel

• USTR personnel announcements

 

China Update:
• Biden predicts 'extreme competition' with China
• China’s top diplomat in U.S. accuses Washington of creating global ‘instability’

 

Trade Policy:
• U.S. endorses Nigerian Okonjo-Iweala for WTO chief after South Korea’s Yoo withdraws

 

Coronavirus Update:
• U.S. to roll out vaccines to retail pharmacies  
• AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine weaker against South Africa strain
• Pfizer expects to cut vaccine production time by close to 50%
• Chinese authorities fear Lunar New Year will spark outbreaks
• U.S. dockworkers may get better vaccine access, easing port risk

 

Politics & Elections:
• Biden says Trump should not receive intelligence briefings
• U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement preparing new guidelines
• Sens. Manchin and Tester come around to Democratic-pushed issue


Other Items of Note:
• Biden: Won’t lift Iran sanctions to bring Tehran back to negotiating table
• Tax season gets off to a late start
• George Shultz dies at age of 100
• American Economics Assn. urges USDA to restore ERS ‘viability’

 


MARKET FOCUS


 

Equities today: U.S. stock futures signal higher openings. The recovery in the U.S. labor market appeared to stagnate for a second month, as non-farm payrolls increased by just 49,000 and December’s figure was downwardly revised to show 227,000 job losses, strengthening the case for further stimulus. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen told CNN on Sunday that the U.S. could return to full employment next year if lawmakers pass Biden’s stimulus package — see details of the coming aid package below. In Asia, the Shanghai Composite Index ended 1% higher. The Nikkei 225 rose 2.1% by the close after Nikkei Asia reported that Japan will consider lifting a coronavirus state of emergency in some prefectures ahead of a new deadline.

 

     U.S. equities Friday: The Dow closed with a gain of 92.38 points, 0.30%, at 31,148.24, just shy of a new record finish. The Nasdaq did close at a record, finishing up 78.55 points, 0.57%, at 13,856.30. The S&P 500 also closed at a record mark, up 15.09 points, 0.39%, at 3,886.83.

 

     For the week, the Dow gained 3.9%, the S&P rose 4.7%, the Nasdaq jumped 6%, and the small-cap Russell 2000 index rallied 7.7% for its best week since June. The benchmark 10-year Treasury yield finished at a year-to-date high 1.17%, gaining 8 basis points on the week.

 

On tap today:

 

     • Bank of England Gov. Andrew Bailey appears virtually before the Treasury Committee at 10:30 a.m. ET.
     • USDA Export Inspections, 11 a.m. ET.
     • European Central Bank President Christine Lagarde participates in a debate on the ECB annual report at 11:15 a.m. ET.
     • Cleveland Fed President Loretta Mester speaks to the Rotary Club of Toledo, Ohio, at 12 p.m.

 

USDA’s first farm income projections for 2021 are too low; Ag Dept.’s 2020 farm income projections lagged real number for most of year. When it comes to crop and grain stocks estimates from USDA’s NASS, and demand projections from the World Board, USDA seems to be lagging over the past few years. Add USDA’s farm income projections for 2020, and its first forecast for 2021 released Friday.  

 

     Let’s look at USDA’s latest farm income forecasts.

 

     Net farm income is forecast at $111.4 billion in 2021, down $9.8 billion from 2020, with net cash farm income seen at $128.3 billion, down $7.9 billion from 2020. The decline in part reflects the expected sharp drop in government payments to farmers to $25.3 billion, down $21 billion from the 2020 record level. The overall decrease reflects lower anticipated payments from supplemental and ad hoc disaster assistance, mainly direct payments for Covid-19 related assistance,” USDA said.

 

     Overall, farm cash receipts are forecast to increase $20.4 billion (5.5%) to $390.8 billion in 2021 in nominal dollars. That comes via an increase in animal/animal product receipts to $175.0 billion, a rise of $8.6 billion, “following increases in receipts for cattle/calves, hogs, and broilers,” USDA said.

 

     Total crop receipts are forecast at $215.8 billion, up $11.8 billion (5.8%) from 2020 levels. “When combined, soybean and corn receipts are forecast to increase $16.1 billion (19%) in 2021, more than offsetting declines in fruits/nuts, vegetables/melons, and cotton,” USDA detailed.

 

     USDA labels the rise in cash receipts in 2021 to an $11.8 billion in price changes and $8.1 billion in quantity changes.

 

     Total production expenses are forecast at $353.7 billion, up $8.6 billion, as farmers are expected to spend more on feed, fertilizer, and labor.  is the greatest contribution to this increase. Total production expenses are still well below the 2014 peak of $426.1 billion in inflation-adjusted terms.

 

     Government payment decline forecast as expected. USDA forecasts a sharp drop in gov’t payments to farmers to $25.3 billion, down $21 billion from the 2020 record level of $46.3 billion. “The overall decrease reflects lower anticipated payments from supplemental and ad hoc disaster assistance, mainly direct payments for Covid-19 related assistance,” USDA said. USDA expects supplemental and ad hoc disaster payments to total $15.6 billion in 2021, forecasting $2.3 billion of Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP) payments and $8 billion in payouts from the $900 billion aid plan approved in December. In 2020, those supplemental and ad hoc disaster payments totaled $32.1 billion out of the record total $46.3 billion in government payments.

 

     Working capital drain. USDA forecasts working capital on farms will decline to $74.3 billion, down more than $10 billion from the 2020 mark of $84.4 billion. But the level of $74.3 billion for 2021 is still well below the $165 billion in 2012. Working capital fell to $65.2 billion in 2016.

 

     Farm financial indicators only edge slightly higher. Farm sector equity is expected to increase by 1.8% to $2.74 trillion in nominal terms, a decline of 0.1% after adjusting for inflation. Farm sector assets are forecast to increase to $3.18 trillion in 2021, mostly on increases in farm real estate. “When adjusted for inflation, total assets are nearly unchanged from 2020,” USDA said.

 

     Farm sector debt is forecast to rise to $441.7 billion, up 2.2%, with real estate debt forecast to rise 3.1%.  But despite the shifts in income, debt, assets and equity, USDA sees the debt-to-asset ratio only rising to 13.89% and the debt-to-equity ratio rising to 16.13%, from 13.84% and 16.06% for 2020. 

 

     Comments and outlook: USDA's 2020 farm income lags earlier in the year were in part due to USDA economists being held by the fact they cannot assume things like the additional CFAP payments that were disbursed during 2020 until they are finalized — their initial forecast in 2020 showed a significant drop in direct government payments to farmers. This is why some industry analysts think ERS should range their farm income forecasts, with and without likely payments ahead. Even ag think tank FAPRI falls into this trap.

 

     The drop in farm income for 2021 is not unexpected, especially with the sizable downturn in government payments that was fully expected. That means any potential ag aid that gets included in the push for another Covid relief plan now or later in 2021 will potentially alter these forecasts if there is a direct payment component for farmers.

 

     The crop receipts forecasts could also be changed as we do not know yet what actual acreage for spring-planted crops. That and price forecasts for 2021-22 are going to be a factor ahead. However, USDA has been increasing its price forecasts for 2020-21 and will have another update February 9 in the WASDE report that would potentially alter the cash receipt picture.

 

     The decline in working capital is another potential factor ahead, particularly if there are additional gov’t payments made to farmers in 2021 that are not part of the USDA forecast equation now. But the decline in working capital is something that will need to be monitored ahead since the forecast level for 2021 is less than $10 billion above the recent crater in 2016 of $65.2 billion.

 

     Despite all the shifts and downturn in payments, farm sector financial ratios are still in very good shape, especially compared to the depths of the farm crisis in 1985 when the debt-to-asset ratio climbed to 22.19% and the debt-to-equity ratio was at 25.81%.

 

     The farm income forecast update could well become a tool for farm-state lawmakers and farm groups as they push to get aid to farmers included in the expected Covid aid package now or later from Congress and the Biden administration.

    Farm income one
    Farm income two
     Farm income 3

 

Market perspectives:

 

     • Outside markets: The yield on 10-year Treasury notes rose to 1.2%, from 1.168% Friday.


     • Oil markets continued to rally, pushing Brent-crude futures above $60 a barrel for the first time since the start of the pandemic in January 2020. The international energy benchmark rose 1.4% to $60.14 a barrel. Futures for West Texas Intermediate, the main grade of U.S. crude, rose 1.3% to $57.57 a barrel, extending an advance driven by shrinking supplies of crude.

 

     • Nationally, gasoline prices have climbed to an average of $2.46 a gallon from $2.12 at the start of November, according to GasBuddy, which tracks retail fuel prices. Gasoline prices are likely to keep climbing, analysts note.

 

       Gas prices

 

     • Volatility in markets declined last week, after soaring at the end of January to its highest level since late October. The Cboe Volatility Index fell to less than 22 on Friday, from over 37 the week before.

 

     • U.S. lumber futures are heading higher again. Those building or wanting to build a new home know what the lumber market has looked like: a decided upward trend after a recent but limited setback.

 


POLICY FOCUS


 

—  CRP general signup extended, tinged with politics. USDA is extending the general Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) signup that was scheduled to end Feb. 12, the agency announced, so it can “continue to accept offers as it takes this opportunity for the incoming Administration to evaluate ways to increase enrollment.” The agency set no deadline for the enrollment.

 

     “Under the previous administration, incentives and rental payment rates were reduced, resulting in an enrollment shortfall of over 4 million acres,” USDA said in the release. Robert Bonnie, USDA deputy chief of staff, said that by extending the signup period, “we’ll have time to evaluate and implement changes to get this neglected program back on track.”

 

     Despite chiding the Trump administration for cutting incentive and rental payments, the rental payments were actually limited by Congress in the 2018 Farm Bill as a way to keep the program from competing with farmers who complained that CRP rents were high enough that they were taking productive cropland out of production.

 

     Biden’s USDA also appears to view the cap on enrollment in CRP, a limit put in place by Congress, as an enrollment target not a limit on the number of acres for the program. There were 20.8 million acres in the CRP as of December, and the program has an acreage enrollment limit of 25 million acres for fiscal year (FY) 2021, 25.5 million acres in FY 2022 and 27 million acres in FY 2023. There are contracts on 3 million acres set to expire Sept. 30. History shows that many contract holders have sought to keep their land in CRP when given the chance to seek a new contract. In the prior general signup that ran from Dec. 19, 2019, to Jan. 28, 2020, landowners submitted offers to enroll 3.8 million acres of land into the CRP and USDA accepted 3.4 million acres — 89% of the offers submitted.

 

     Comments: Politics has come to even operating the CRP it seems. Apparently, some in the current USDA forgot or never even knew that CRP competed with farmers, especially beginning ones, and I why the limits were put in the farm bill in the first place. This may just be the first of several politically inspired comments in operation of traditional farm programs — nothing is “traditional” nowadays. One farmer emailed: “USDA might include a review of rental rates. When you start raising rental rates it can be competition for some farmers, especially young ones. Hope they make higher rates very targeted to higher environmental benefit areas. Let’s make sure this does not turn into a ‘set aside program’ when the world demand for crops is large and we need production acres.”

 

     One ag industry analyst emailed: “Ending hunger and set aside programs don’t go hand in hand. At a time when more Americans need access to high quality and abundant food supplies priority should be on achieving our climate goals through working lands programs and increased public funding for agricultural research.”

 

— When is the Biden USDA going to implement the CFAP programs on pause? Says one source: “Their hold on CFAP was for the additional changes recently made by the department (adding turfgrass and changing the APH replacement to 100% of the ARC Benchmark. When are they going to get on with it? Further, when are they going to implement what was recently passed (Dec. 21)?  $20/ac is based on CFAP 2.0 acres...the process could be completely automated/automatic.”

 

— President Biden late Friday in an interview with CBS News said he thought he would likely have to split the minimum wage proposal off from the main aid bill. Biden has called for a $15-an-hour federal minimum wage, up from $7.25 currently, a move that would require action by Congress. But the wage wouldn’t jump the full amount immediately.

 

     Sanders on offense. “I will do everything that I can to make sure a $15-an-hour minimum wage is included in this reconciliation bill, but there appears to be some misunderstanding,” said Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who caucuses with the Democrats. “It was never my intention to raise the minimum wage immediately and during the pandemic.” "Well, I hope he is [wrong]," Sanders, who helms the Senate Budget Committee, told CNN's Jake Tapper on Sunday after being reminded of Biden's reservations on the wage hike. "The president supports the $15 an hour minimum wage. I do. Last poll I saw has 62% of the American people supporting it. Because at the end of the day, we are in the midst of massive income and wealth inequality. People on top are doing phenomenally well, yet we have literally tens of millions of Americans working for starvation wages. You cannot make it in any state in this country on nine or 10 bucks an hour, you gotta raise that minimum wage to 15 bucks an hour."

 

     “As chairman of the Budget Committee, we have a room full of lawyers working as hard as we can to make the case to the parliamentarian, that in fact, raising the minimum wage will have significant budget implications," Sanders added.

 

     Background. The first increase to $9.50 an hour would occur the day a law becomes effective. Congress can set the law to become effective at a later date than when the president signs it. Annual increases would follow until reaching $15 an hour, four years after the effective date, then the rate would be reviewed annually and adjusted based on changes to median hourly earnings of all employees.

 

     Democrats also proposed gradual elimination of subminimum wages for workers who are in part paid through tips. That minimum wage for adult workers is currently $2.13 an hour. The bill also eliminates separate subminimum wages for youth and disabled workers.

 

     Currently, the federal minimum wage is in force in 21 states that either don’t have a state minimum wage or set a level at or below $7.25 an hour. More states would be covered by the federal rate should it be raised to $15 an hour in the coming years.

 

     Min wage

        Min wage states

— Some concessions may be seen with stimulus checks, and President Biden has indicated the direct payments could be sent to a smaller group of Americans. Previous checks were given to citizens making under $75,000 per year, but that is now likely to be reduced to $50,000, which would cut the total price tag of the Covid aid bill.

 

— Senior Democrats to unveil new $3,000-per-child benefit as Biden stimulus gains steam. Under the proposal, the Internal Revenue Service would provide $3,600 over the course of the year per child under the age of 6, as well as $3,000 per child aged 6 to 17. The size of the benefit would diminish for Americans earning more than $75,000 per year, as well as for couples jointly earning more than $150,000 per year. The payments would be sent monthly beginning in July, a delay intended to give the IRS time to prepare for the massive new initiative.

 

     An analysis by Columbia University researchers of Biden’s proposal found it would cut the number of children in poverty by as much as 54%, the equivalent of 5 million children. More than 1 million Black children would be lifted out of poverty by the plan, the researchers found. Biden’s plan has been estimated to cost upward of $120 billion per year.

 

— Timeline for next Covid aid package… later rather than sooner. House Democrats said they plan to pass President Biden’s $1.9 trillion Covid-19 aid package by late February, clearing the way for Senate consideration ahead of a March deadline, when federal unemployment runs out.

 

     Pelosi comments. “[This week], we will be writing the legislation to create a path to final passage for the Biden American Rescue Plan, so that we can finish our work before the end of February,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) wrote to fellow Democrats. Congress last week cleared the way for the massive spending package to pass the Senate without the usual filibuster hurdle by passing a budget resolution. The resolution includes language that will allow the Senate to pass the measure with 51 votes. Democrats control 50 votes and the tiebreaking vote of Vice President Kamala Harris.

 

     House committee chairs met with Biden and Harris on Friday to discuss the legislation the panels will start drafting this week. Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said the House could vote on the legislation the week of Feb. 22. “The committees largely believe they're going to need the two weeks” to write the bill, he added.

 

     Biden’s proposal includes a new round of $1,400 stimulus checks, enhanced unemployment benefits worth $400 per week, $350 billion for states and local governments, $15 billion for small businesses, $30 billion in rental assistance, and $20 billion for vaccine distribution, among other provisions.

 

     The coronavirus relief bill also includes $350 billion in aid for states and localities, $20 billion to advance vaccinations, $50 billion for testing, $170 billion for schools, and $30 billion for rent assistance. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on Friday that she hopes the relief package will pass the House and move to the Senate within two weeks.

 

— Airline aid at $75 billion in Financial Services part of rescue plan. Thousands of airline workers at major air carriers who are facing furloughs would get a reprieve as part of the House Financial Services Committee's portion of the emerging Covid-19 aid package multiple panels will draft this week. The panel's recommendations total $75 billion, part of a larger measure expected to cost up to $1.89 trillion under the terms of the fiscal 2021 budget resolution (SConRes 5) adopted last week.

 

     The $15 billion for the aviation industry to keep workers on payroll through Sept. 30 is an addition to President Joe Biden's proposed aid package. Other major components in the committee's recommendation, including $25 billion for rental housing assistance, $5 billion to help alleviate homelessness, and $10 billion to ramp up production of emergency medical gear, were in Biden's initial proposal.

 

     The Financial Services panel is scheduled to mark up the legislative recommendations starting Wednesday at noon ET.

 

 


BIDEN ADMINISTRATION PERSONNEL


 

—  Biden administration made several appointments at the office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR), among them Obama-era Treasury Deputy Assistant Secretary Brad Setser as counselor to the nominee for the top job, Katherine Tai. Bloomberg notes that Setser, who most recently was a senior fellow for international economics at the Council on Foreign Relations, “has a history of aggressive comments on some overseas central banks, criticizing some for foreign-exchange purchases he called intervention.” He will be “providing advice on a broad range of trade and economic policy matters,” the USTR said in a statement.

 

     The USTR announced the appointment of Greta Peisch, who spent the past six years as an international trade counsel on the Senate finance committee, as senior counsel.    

 

     Nora Todd, who helped craft key changes to the update of the North American Free Trade Agreement as a top Senate aide, was picked as chief of staff at the USTR last month. She previously worked for Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), as his chief economic adviser.

 

     Other appointments the USTR announced include:

  • Jamila Thompson and Mark Wu as senior advisers
  • Sirat Attapit as assistant USTR for intergovernmental affairs
  • Jan Beukelman as assistant USTR for congressional affairs
  • Adam Hodge as assistant USTR for media and public affairs
  • Ethan Holmes as special assistant to the USTR
  • Ginna Lance as deputy chief of staff
  • Samuel Negatu as director of congressional affairs
  • Shantanu Tata as executive secretary and adviser to the USTR
     

CHINA UPDATE


 

Biden predicts 'extreme competition' with China. The U.S. and China will experience "extreme competition" on the global economic stage but will not be drawn into direct conflict with one another, President Biden said on Sunday. In an interview that aired on CBS's Face the Nation, the president told anchor Norah O'Donnell that there was no reason for the U.S. and China to be drawn into war, but that the two superpowers would likely collide economically for years to come. "The question is, I've said to [China's President Xi Jinping] all along, that we need not have a conflict," Biden told CBS. "But there's gonna be extreme competition. And I'm not going to do it the way that he knows," the president continued, referring to the approach taken towards China by the Trump administration, which tried for years to reach a major trade agreement with China in efforts that ultimately sputtered out. "We're gonna focus on international rules of the road," Biden continued.

 

     Biden explained why he hasn't called Xi two weeks into his administration. “Well, we haven't had occasion to talk to one another yet," Biden told CBS News. "There's no reason not to call him," he added. Biden described Xi as "very bright" and "tough," though Biden said, "He doesn't have a democratic, small 'D,' bone in his body.”

 

— China’s top diplomat in U.S. accuses Washington of creating global ‘instability.’ In a lengthy interview with CNN on Sunday, ambassador Cui Tiankai said China was “open to all American companies” — despite Beijing’s ban on major companies like Facebook and Google — and said it was unfortunate that technology and information had become politicized between the two countries. “All these companies, what they want is a major market share in China. I don’t think their goal is to share technology with China, they just want to make money in the Chinese market,” he said. “Of course, they could come, and we are open to all American companies. But there are existing and even mounting restrictions imposed by the United States government against all this free flow of technology and information.”

 

     Cui also pushed back against the idea that a growing number of countries beyond the U.S. — including India, Japan, Vietnam and Australia — are increasingly concerned over China’s more assertive foreign policy. He added that China was a firm supporter of multilateral institutions, while Washington was the real source of trouble. “The fact is, whenever you have more involvement by the United States, you have greater instability, anywhere in the world,” he said. “What has been done by the United States, especially in the last few years, has antagonized the Chinese public very much. But I’m still confident if both sides could make the right choice, if we can put the relations back on a stable and constructive track, there’s a great potential and opportunity for our two countries.”

 

     Meanwhile, a report by New York-based political risk consultancy Eurasia Group said, “China has continued a high tempo of trade diplomacy in an offensive to thwart efforts to isolate it”, adding that Beijing was using the media “to signal a desire to work constructively with Biden, while putting the onus on the U.S. to improve the relationship and avoid the 'mistakes' of Trump’s China strategy."

 

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

 

 


TRADE POLICY


 

— U.S. endorses Nigerian Okonjo-Iweala for WTO chief after South Korea’s Yoo withdraws. Following the withdrawal of South Korean Trade Minister Yoo Myung-hee from the World Trade Organization's (WTO) Director General (DG) race, the U.S. as expected said it is backing the candidacy of former Nigerian Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. The announcement effectively lifts a block the Trump administration had placed on Okonjo-Iweala’s appointment and clearing the last obstacle in her path to WTO’s top spot.

 


CORONAVIRUS UPDATE


 

 Summary: Global cases of Covid-19 are at 106,206,994 with 2.318,388 deaths, according to data compiled by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University. The U.S. case count is at 27,007,719 with 463,482 deaths.

 

       Link to Covid Case Tracker
       Link to Our World in Data

 

— U.S. to roll out vaccines to retail pharmacies.​ A million doses are set to be delivered directly to 6,500 stores this week, kicking off the first phase of the Biden administration's program in which major chains such as CVS and Walgreens will aim to administer tens of millions of shots a month.

 

— AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine weaker against South Africa strain. A small clinical trial in South Africa found that AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine doesn’t appear to protect recipients against mild and moderate illness from the new strain of the virus first detected in the country. Link for details via the WSJ.

 

     Variant

 

— Pfizer expects to cut vaccine production time by close to 50%. Pfizer expects to nearly cut in half the amount of time it takes to produce a batch of Covid-19 vaccine from 110 days to an average of 60 as it makes the process more efficient and production is built out, the company told USA Today (link). The increase could help relieve bottlenecks caused by vaccine shortages. "We call this 'Project Light Speed,' and it's called that for a reason," said Chaz Calitri, Pfizer's vice president for operations for sterile injectables, who runs the company's plant in Kalamazoo, Michigan. "Just in the last month we've doubled output." The increased speed and capacity is not unexpected, said Robert Van Exan, president of Immunization Policy and Knowledge Translation, a vaccine production consulting firm.

 

— Chinese authorities fear Lunar New Year will spark outbreaks. China has urged its citizens not to travel during its most important holiday, which runs for a week beginning on Friday. The second straight year of pandemic-related disruptions to the celebrations will likely weigh on the country's relatively rapid economic recovery. Meanwhile, China's drug regulator gave provisional approval to Sinovac's Covid-19 vaccine, the second shot to receive approval for mass inoculation there.

 

— U.S. dockworkers may get better vaccine access, easing port risk. Dockworkers at the busiest U.S. gateway for trade with Asia may soon have better access to coronavirus vaccines, as officials on the West Coast battle congestion blamed on shortages of labor and equipment needed to handle a record influx of cargo. “State officials here are concerned and are trying to make sure that we get distribution to the port complex,” Mario Cordero, executive director of the Port of Long Beach in California, said in an interview Friday, according to Bloomberg. “I think it could happen in days.” Rising infection rates threaten to worsen bottlenecks around the twin ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, raising a damaging prospect for the U.S. economy: that cargo terminals staffed largely by unions might have to close temporarily if too many workers get sick. That would heap more pressure on a logjam that as of Friday totaled 36 container ships anchored near San Pedro Bay waiting a week or longer to offload.

 

     The Los Angeles area’s two ports handle almost a third of U.S. shipping container volumes. So those snarls are rippling across the country, leaving some companies short of consumer products made abroad or parts needed for domestic assembly.

 


POLITICS & ELECTIONS


 

— Biden says Trump should not receive intelligence briefings. President Joe Biden said on Friday that Donald Trump’s “erratic behavior” should prevent him from receiving classified intelligence briefings, a courtesy that historically has been granted to outgoing presidents. Asked in an interview with CBS News what he feared if Trump continued to receive the briefings, Biden said he did not want to “speculate out loud” but made clear he did not want Trump to continue getting them. “I just think that there is no need for him to have the intelligence briefings,” Biden said. “What value is giving him an intelligence briefing? What impact does he have at all, other than the fact he might slip and say something?” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said earlier that the issue of granting Trump intelligence briefings was “something that is under review.”

 

— U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is preparing to issue new guidelines to agents this week that could sharply curb arrests and deportations, as the Biden administration attempts to assert more control over the agency. According to reports, agents will no longer seek to deport immigrants for crimes such as driving under the influence and assault, and will focus instead on national security threats, recent border crossers and people completing prison and jail terms for aggravated felony convictions.

 

— Manchin and Tester eventually come around to Democratic-pushed issue. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) is a moderate Democrat from conservative West Virginia. He is widely seen as blocking the Democrats’ push to get ride of the 60-vote filibuster, and other controversial issues like packing the Supreme Court and pushing statehood for DC and Puerto Rico. Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) is another maverick/populist known to crossover political party lines at times. But Republicans note a recent vote that shows these two senators could safely be in the Democratic camp, potentially changing their prior positions on very controversial matters ahead. The evidence: Tester and Manchin flipped their positions on the Keystone XL pipeline. First, they voted for a GOP amendment opposing President Biden’s plan to shut down the pipeline that would provide thousands of high-paying energy jobs. But they later voted for a Democratic amendment at the end of the debate that passed 51-50 and erased that Keystone amendment. The same type of switches also erased two other amendments that had passed with bipartisan support. One barred Covid-19 relief checks from going to undocumented aliens, and the second would have barred Biden from banning fracking for oil and gas.

 


OTHER ITEMS OF NOTE     


 

— Biden: Won’t lift Iran sanctions to bring Tehran back to negotiating table. President Biden said the U.S. won't lift sanctions on Iran in order to get the country back to the negotiating table, adding that sanctions will only be lifted if Tehran stops enriching uranium. Iran’s Supreme Leader said the U.S. must effectively remove all sanctions on his country’s economy before the Islamic Republic will agree to scale back its atomic work and help revive the beleaguered talks.

 

— Tax season gets off to a late start. The Internal Revenue Service will begin accepting 2020 individual income tax returns on Friday, following a weekslong delay as the agency worked to keep up with pandemic relief legislation. Under the new Covid aid plan from the Democrats, child-care payments would be sent monthly beginning in July, a delay intended to give the IRS time to prepare for the massive new initiative.

 

— George Shultz dies at age of 100. He was a pillar of the Republican foreign-policy establishment whose diplomacy helped seal the end of the Cold War. Shultz held four different Cabinet posts in the Nixon and Reagan administrations and served for six years as President Ronald Reagan’s secretary of State.

 

— American Economics Association urges USDA to restore ERS ‘viability.’ USDA “must restore the viability” of the Economic Research Service (ERS), because it is “one of the 13 official statistical agencies of the United States,” the American Economic Association said in a report to the Biden-Harris administration. Following the Trump administration’s decision to move the agency to Kansas City in 2018, “roughly 75% of the professional staff resigned or retired,” the association of 2,000 economists said. “More than two years after the relocation was announced, ERS has severe staff shortages, particularly in its ranks of senior analysts and management, and is facing substantial staff recruitment challenges. As a consequence, the agency’s statistical programs have been abridged and federal and state governments are suffering from inadequate agricultural statistics generally, but especially statistics to inform rural development, food assistance and security, and agriculturally related natural resource conservation policies.” AEA concluded: “While we do not have a specific recommendation for how the Department of Agriculture ameliorates these problems, we believe it needs to act swiftly and decisively to assess and resolve the challenges it faces as a result of ERS’ decimation.”

 


 

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