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Grassley raises possibility of ‘skinny’ aid bill without agriculture

-The Hagstrom Report

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, today raised the possibility that Congress might pass a “skinny” coronavirus aid package this month and leave agriculture and many other issues until September.

In a call to rural reporters, Grassley said that he got a call at 5 p.m. Monday that there had not been much progress, and he does not believe that the $20 billion for agriculture “has even been thought of” by the four top negotiators – White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-Calif.

“That doesn’t mean it won’t get fair consideration,” Grassley said, noting that both the House bill and the Senate bill have money for agriculture.

But he then said Congress might “end up with a skinny bill” this month and leave the rest of the aid package until September.

Grassley said unemployment benefits, evictions and aid to schools and universities must be addressed in August.

But he said that Democrats may believe it is to their advantage “to blame Republicans” and “never agree to anything” because President Donald Trump is behind in the polls and the Democrats want to take over the Senate. But he added that he thinks it will be difficult for the Democrats “to get away without negotiating in good faith.”

Grassley said it is possible that he will find out at the Republican caucus meeting today how Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., intends to proceed, but it is also possible that there will be no clarity until Thursday, when the Senate is scheduled to adjourn. He said it’s possible the Senate would stay in session through the weekend or go home and come back next week or be subject to a call when negotiations are complete.

“It is all up in the air,” Grassley said.

Concerning the calls from the biofuels industry that the Senate bill should direct Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue to provide aid to ethanol plants, Grassley said his view is that the word “ethanol” should be added to the bill. Short of that, Grassley said, Congress needs to convince Perdue to provide aid to ethanol plants. Grassley said he doesn’t think Perdue “will be difficult to convince” but that Perdue is in a “quandary” because he fears that it could lead to requests for aid from other processing sectors such as “corn fructose, everything we make out of soybeans” and that it will be difficult to determine where to stop.

The Senate bill as written says that the Agriculture secretary can use the $20 billion to provide aid to “processors,” but it does not mention ethanol specifically.

Grassley also expressed exasperation with President Donald Trump, saying he wishes Trump “would quit saying, ‘I have the power to issue an executive order’.” Grassley said he might have the power but that the statements would be much more impressive to the public if he said he had consulted with his lawyers and that the lawyers say “I can do this and I can’t do that” and that if Congress doesn’t pass an aid bill “I am going to issue an executive order based on the advice of my lawyers.”

Grassley said the aid package would be “on sound constitutional grounds” if Congress acts.

The Agriculture Department’s recent report on the livestock markets following the fire last year in Holcomb, Kan., and the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic crisis this year amounted to an endorsement of his bill with Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., to require a certain level of spot sales, Grassley said.

Although the report did not include any findings of improper behavior, the current system “is clearly an unsustainable model” for beef producers, Grassley said.

Grassley believes his bill with Tester should be considered in the reauthorization of mandatory livestock reporting, but he said today that Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., is opposed to that and that Roberts’ staff “is geared up” to fight. Roberts, he noted, has not succeeded in getting USDA officials “to denounce my bill.”

To get it passed, Grassley said, there needs to be “a massive uproar from the grassroots of the Midwest.”

On the issue of the Environmental Protection Agency’s decision on petitions for retroactive waivers from the Renewable Fuel Standard, Grassley said the Energy Department has finished its reviews of all 57 cases and that “it is in the court of the EPA.”

EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler told Grassley and Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, a month ago that “EPA had to consider the petitions because it’s the law.”

The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that EPA had already violated the law by issuing some waivers gives him “some comfort,” Grassley said, adding “it’s hard for me to convince anybody with ethanol that you should be comfortable with anything Wheeler says.”

Even though there are continuing conflicts between the United States and China, Grassley said he believes that China will not pull out of the phase one trade agreement because China “sends more to us than we do to them.” China has been buying corn at historically high levels and will soon buy soybeans because Brazil is running out of soybeans, he said.

Grassley also said he hopes a bill making technical fixes to the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement on trade can be passed by unanimous consent, but if not it can be added to an omnibus appropriations bill.


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