By Jon H. Harsch

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.

WASHINGTON, April 25 – The Senate's bipartisan “Gang of Six” will continue work this week on a deficit reduction deal. They aren't divulging details but leave the impression that they're edging closer to a combination of spending cuts and revenue-boosting tax reforms.

Whatever deal the Gang of Six delivers won't be soon enough – not with gas at $4 and headed for $5 or higher this summer – and not with some town hall participants upset over the level of government spending and others complaining over which popular programs might be cut.
The first order of business when Congress returns next week will be dealing with the federal debt ceiling. Treasury Secretary Geithner figures the U.S. officially will reach its borrowing limit May 16. He also figures that creative accounting will enable the government to keep operating for another two months after May 16. But pressure for action – and the looming threat of an unthinkable U.S. government default – will intensify. Democrats are hopeful that enough grassroots backlash against changing Medicare will force House Budget Chair Paul Ryan, R-Wis., to rewrite his deficit-reduction plan to add some tax increases to his plan rather than rely entirely on social-program spending cuts.

But Ryan seems unlikely to change his approach, making it more difficult for the Senate Gang of Six – Republicans Saxby Chambliss, Ga.; Mike Crapo, Idaho; and Tom Coburn, Okla.; and Democrats Mark Warner, Va.; Kent Conrad, N.D.; and Dick Durbin, Ill. – to win support for a package which includes tax increases as well as spending cuts.

The White House has already indicated that at least an interim spending-cut deal will have to be included with raising the debt ceiling or else it won't be able to win passage in the Republican House. But it also seems clear that because perhaps 60 or more House Republicans may vote against raising the debt limit even with significant spending cuts, it's likely that passage would require a significant number of Democrats to support the bill. Getting that Democratic support may require a compromise which includes spreading any spending cuts across a broader range of federal programs along with some tax increases.

So this week could be crucial in setting the stage for critical debt-ceiling and deficit-reduction votes based not only on what the Gang of Six works out behind closed doors this week but also on what message voters back at home deliver to their members of Congress.

The stage is also being set this week for the future of the three pending Free Trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Panama. U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk meets with Panamanian Minister of Commerce & Industry Roberto Henríquez on Tuesday as the administration and Congress work out plans for legislative action on the three long-stalled FTAs. Republicans still call for passing the three as a single package while the administration wants them on separate tracks so that even if one FTA got derailed, the other two could be ratified.

Other key events and meetings this week:

Monday, April 25

  • President & Mrs. Obama host an expected 30,000 guests for the 2011White House Easter Egg Roll on the south lawn.

  • USDA reports: Livestock Slaughter – Ann., Crop Progress.

Tuesday, April 26

  • U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) 2011 Energy Conference, with discussion of “tough choices” caused by budget cuts. Speakers include EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, Shell Oil President Marvin Odum, and National Economic Council Director Gene Sperling.

  • USDA reports: Monthly Milk Cost of Production, Poultry Slaughter, Crop Production Historical Track Records, Grain Stocks Historical Track Records.

Wednesday, April 27

  • Senate Energy Committee field hearing in Santa Fe, N.M., on current drought conditions affecting New Mexico, and the status of reports to be issued pursuant to the SECURE Water Act.

    2nd day of EIA Energy Conference.

  • CFTC Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) 14th public meeting on proposed Dodd-Frank rules, including Capital Requirements of Swap Dealers and Major Swap Participants; Protection of Cleared Swaps Customer Contracts; and Product Definitions.

  • Deputy U. S. Trade Representative Miriam Sapiro holds National Export Initiative (NEI) FTA Tariff Tool rollout event to help small businesses boost exports.

  • USDA reports: Broiler Hatchery, Dairy Products - Ann., Milk – PDI.

Thursday, April 28

  • Agriculture Secretary Vilsack gives the opening keynote address at the State of Environmental Justice in America 2011 Conference.

    USDA reports: Vegetables and Melons Outlook, U.S. and Canadian Hogs, Meat Animals - PDI, Poultry - Production and Value, Puerto Rico - Agricultural Statistics.

Friday, April 29

  • Prince William, second in line to the British throne, marries Kate Middleton in London's Westminster Abbey.

  • USDA reports: Dairy Products Prices, Agricultural Prices, Egg Products, Peanut Prices, Peanut Stocks and Processing.

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