Washington Week Ahead: Obama makes case for taxes, trade in State of the Union

By Philip Brasher

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WASHINGTON, Jan. 19, 2015 - President Obama makes the case for his political agenda Tuesday with a State of the Union message that will challenge the GOP congressional majority on tax policy while likely reaching out to Republicans on trade, their one real area of common ground.

Obama has been previewing much of the speech in recent days by releasing a series of key proposals, including an effort to expand broadband and a series of new tax proposals, including higher capital gains taxes on inherited assets. Republicans immediately rejected the plan.

Ahead of the speech Tuesday, congressional opponents of the president's trade agenda will be joined on a conference call with reporters by the president of the National Farmers Union, Roger Johnson, to make the case against granting Obama fast-track trade promotion authority (TPA).

TPA also is certain to be a major topic as the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, unveils his committee's agenda in a speech to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday morning. Hatch has said the panel will take up TPA early in the year but hasn't laid out a timetable.

Top administration officials also will be talking trade policy Wednesday after the State of the Union. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack heads to Houston for a trade event that's billed as a follow-up to the president's address. U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman will speak to the U.S. Conference of Mayors winter meeting before heading to Davos, Switzerland for the World Economic Forum

The president's tax plan includes a proposal that would require heirs to pay capital gains taxes on the increase in value of an inherited asset from when it was purchased, not when the owner died. The proposal has no chance in Congress. The White House says only a “small minority” of small businesses would actually be affected by the elimination of stepped-up basis because of provisions meant to protect heirs from having to sell out to pay the tax. The tax would still be owed when the business is sold.

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On Capitol Hill, the Senate will start voting Tuesday on a series of amendments to a bill that would approve the Keystone XL pipeline bill. After last week's cloture vote, Republicans still appear to be four votes short of a veto-proof majority.

There are four amendments set for votes so far, including one that would add energy efficiency measures to the legislation and possibly attract more Democratic votes.

Another amendment, on which a vote isn't scheduled yet, would eliminate the annual usage mandates for corn ethanol. Bob Dinneen, president and CEO of the Renewable Fuels Association, said the amendment “would set our nation's energy, economic, and climate agenda back decades.”

Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., said the debate on a variety of amendments could take several weeks. “We are hoping that this helps create more bipartisanship and open up the Senate and break through the gridlock, not only on this legislation but other legislation as well,” he said on an interview that aired Sunday on C-Span.

Also Thursday, the Agriculture Department will release congressional district rankings from the 2012 agricultural census. Iowa's 4th district, represented by Republican Steve King, will jump up the rankings from the 2007 census, both because of the impact of redistricting and the soaring price of corn and soybeans.

The 4th district, which ranked No. 5 in the market value of its agricultural production in 2007, was enlarged after the 2010 census when Iowa lost its fifth district. Despite the drought that year, the 4th district produced nearly $17 billion worth of crops and livestock in 2012, behind only Nebraska's 3rd District.

Here's a list of agriculture- or rural-related events scheduled for this week in Washington and elsewhere:

Monday, Jan. 19

Federal holiday

Tuesday, Jan. 20

9 a.m.  -Senate Finance Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, unveils his committee's agenda, U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

9 p.m. - President Obama's state of the union address.

Wednesday, Jan. 21

All day - National Food Tank Summit, The George Washington University, livestreamed.

9:30 a.m. - U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman speaks at the U.S. Conference of Mayors winter meeting, Capital Hilton

10 a.m. -House Education and the Workforce Committee organizational meeting, 2175 Rayburn.

10 a.m. -House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee hearing on FAA reauthorization, 2167 Rayturn.

10:15 a.m. -House Ways and Means Committee organizational meeting, 1300 Longworth.

Thursday, Jan. 22

All day - National Food Tank Summit continued.

9:30 a.m. -Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee organizational meeting, 366 Dirksen.

10 a.m. - Senate Finance hearing, “Jobs and a Healthy Economy,” 215 Dirksen.

10 a.m. -Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing on health insurance and full-time work, 430 Dirksen.

Noon - USDA releases the congressional district rankings for 2012 agricultural census data.

Friday, Jan. 23

8:30 a.m. - USDA releases Weekly Export Sales report.

9 a.m. - USDA releases monthly food price outlook.

3 p.m. - USDA issues Chicken and Eggs, Cattle on Feed and Peanut Prices reports.

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