Democrats are threatening to go it alone on the next COVID aid package if Republicans won’t make a deal on President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion plan.
The big question is whether Democrats will try to use the budget reconciliation process to pass the measure. They wouldn’t need any Republicans to do that as long as they could get all 50 Senate Democrats to vote for it.
However, ten Republican senators are expected to release details of a smaller, more targeted aid package today. The plan “reflects many of your stated priorities, and with your support, we believe that this plan could be approved quickly by Congress with bipartisan support,” the senators said in a letter to Biden released Sunday.
Biden’s plan includes an extension of the 15% bonus in SNAP benefits enacted in December, plus new aid for restaurants that provide meals to low-income people.
Biden continues to insist that he wants Republican support – and that Congress needs to pass a big stimulus measure soon. “We have learned from past crises that the risk is not doing too much. The risk is not doing enough,” Biden said on Friday.
Keep in mind: To use budget reconciliation, Democrats would first have to pass a budget resolution, a process that can be divisive and time consuming.
For more on the agenda in the nation’s capital, read our Washington Week Ahead.
Lawmakers appeal for travel exemption
House members from both parties are asking the Biden administration to exempt food and ag workers from future COVID-19 travel bans.
The issue arose quickly last week when the administration announced that it was barring travel from South Africa because of a new variant of the virus. On Thursday night, the State Department announced that it would offer exemptions to South African food and ag workers who had H-2A or H-2B visas.
“We appreciate the Administration’s continued efforts to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, but we ask that supply chain impacts remain top of mind during these discussions,” 44 House members said in a letter.
UK applies to join CPTPP
The UK has submitted its application to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) and official negotiations are expected to begin later this year, according to an announcement released Sunday by the country’s Department of International Trade.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in a statement: “Applying to be the first new country to join the CPTPP demonstrates our ambition to do business on the best terms with our friends and partners all over the world and be an enthusiastic champion of global free trade.”
The U.S. was one of the driving forces behind the creation of the Pacific Rim trade pact, but Donald Trump pulled the U.S. out four years ago before it was initiated. The pact currently includes Japan, Vietnam, Australia and eight other nations.
Administration asked to exclude CFAP from PPP eligibility
Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin and Senate GOP Whip John Thune of South Dakota are asking the Biden administration to make it easier for farmers to qualify for a new round of Paycheck Protection Program assistance by excluding their Coronavirus Food Assistance Program payments when calculating their 2020 income.
“We respectfully request that you clarify through additional guidance or an FAQ that CFAP payments provided to farmers and ranchers in 2020 do not count toward gross receipts for purposes of demonstrating a 25 percent reduction in revenue in 2020 compared to 2019,” reads a letter sent to the Small Business Administration and Department of Treasury.
Interim final rules issued in early January outline how businesses must demonstrate a 25% reduction in gross receipts, but it’s unclear if CFAP payments would disqualify certain farmers and ranchers
Former US govt officials offer Biden plan to save Amazon rainforest
A bipartisan coalition of former cabinet members and other government officials is proposing a plan to protect the Amazon rainforests in South America from deforestation. Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has said his country doesn’t need any help, but U.S. officials say the rest of the world needs to chip in with funding and a strategy to stop companies from buying commodities at the expense of rainforests.
The coalition said their plan is a blueprint on how President Biden can make good on his campaign promise "to mobilize $20 billion to protect the Amazon rainforests, which are disappearing at an alarming rate and are critical to the climate system, public health, human rights, and biodiversity.”
Todd Stern, former State Department special envoy for climate change, says the new Amazon Protection Plan is “based on targeted economic incentives, public and private funding, the sharp reduction of global demand for goods that drive illegal deforestation, and constructive engagement with Brazil that is premised on respect for its national interests and awareness of its desire to participate in various international economic and trade arrangements."
Investigators looking into liquid nitrogen leak that killed six in Georgia
Federal and state investigators are looking into the cause of a liquid nitrogen leak that killed six workers at a poultry plant in Georgia Thursday.
A Foundation Food Group spokesman said the accident was the result of a ruptured line and those killed included “maintenance, supervisory, and management team members," according to news reports. At least 11 people have been hospitalized.
Two unions immediately issued statements tying the accident to the lack of union representation at the facility.
The United Food and Commercial Workers Union called the accident “an unspeakable tragedy, but a preventable one. Refrigerants are one of the most common dangers faced in these facilities, and in a union plant our representatives, stewards, safety captains and industrial engineers work every day with employers on process safety management to reduce risk and keep workers safe.”
Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, was blunt: “The egregious lack of standards at non-union facilities like the one in Gainesville cost essential workers their lives,” he said.
World orange production rising
Global orange production is on the rise, but not in the U.S., according to an analysis by USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service. Production for the 2020-21 marketing year, bolstered by good weather in Brazil, Mexico and China, is now expected to reach 49.4 million metric tons – a 3.6-million-ton increase from the previous year.
Much of the decrease in U.S. production is due to problems in Florida, where most of the U.S. orange juice is made and citrus greening is still plaguing farmers. U.S. production is expected to fall by 13% and a 20% decrease is expected in Florida alone.
He said it: “We greatly appreciate the swift and timely action of the Department of State to grant agriculture workers from South Africa an exemption to the travel restrictions.” That was David Gairhan, chairman of the Arkansas Rice Federation. The South African variant of COVID-19 has already been detected in the U.S.
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