WASHINGTON, Jan. 25, 2017 - Congress is shutting down for the rest of the week as Republican lawmakers head to Philadelphia for a three-day retreat. While there, they’ll hold private discussions on their top legislative priorities - including tax reform and health care. 

President Donald Trump and British Prime Minister Theresa May will both head to Philadelphia on Thursday to talk to the lawmakers. 

The discussion of tax reform comes as a key conservative leader has given his blessing to a proposed border adjustment tax, which would be applied to imported products, including oil and other farm inputs. 

Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform told CNBC he could support the border tax only because it’s part of a broader “pro-growth” tax package. The border adjustment would be a huge revenue raiser that would offset the cost of cuts in corporate and personal taxes. 

Norquist is best known for getting Republican candidates to pledge not to vote for tax increases. 

Agri-Pulse will be covering the GOP retreat. Watch for updates in Daybreak and online.

Senate Ag waiting on Perdue paperwork. Senators left town with several cabinet nominations still hanging that are important to agriculture. No committee action has been set for EPA nominee Scott Pruitt, and committee votes on Interior nominees Ryan Zinke and Rick Perry were postponed. 

The Senate Commerce Committee has voted, however, to advance the nominations of Commerce secretary Wilbur Ross, who is supposed to be Trump’s lead on trade policy, and of Transportation nominee Elaine Chao. 

No hearing has been scheduled yet for Agriculture nominee Sonny Perdue, although Sen. Chuck Grassley says it is expected it to occur within a couple of weeks. 

Perdue’s nomination was just announced last week, and the Senate Agriculture Committee has yet to receive his paperwork. Perdue’s name wasn’t included in the nominations that Trump sent to the Senate on Friday.

Grassley looks for Midwestern nominees. Grassley, by the way, says he wants to see Midwestern views represented in the coming sub-cabinet appointments at USDA. One possibility he would definitely support is Iowa Agriculture Secretary Bill Northey. 

As we’ve reported, a pair of Indianans are among possibilities for the No. 2 position at USDA: the state agriculture director, Ted McKinney, and former congressional candidate Kip Tom, a leading farmer in the state. 

OMB nominee pledges to ‘improve’ farm spending. The ranking Democrat on Senate Agriculture, Debbie Stabenow, used a confirmation hearing for Trump’s nominee to run the White House budget office, to try to find out whether he would propose cuts in farm bill spending. 

The nominee, South Carolina Rep. Mick Mulvaney, deflected questions about the upcoming budget, saying he hadn’t been involved in the discussions. But he told Stabenow he looked forward to talking to lawmakers to “about how to both maintain and improve and make (the programs) more efficient.”

The Congressional Budget Office, meanwhile, has given Stabenow and other members of the Senate and House Agriculture committee members some new ammunition with which to defend farm bill spending. 

The CBO’s new budget estimates project big declines in both crop insurance and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. The cut in crop insurance comes largely from CBO’s decision to change its estimated loss ratio used to estimate program cost. 

University of Missouri economist Pat Westhoff says the new loss ratio is closer to the actual performance of the program. 

For more on the CBO numbers, a profile of Perdue and other information you need to know, check this week’s Agri-Pulse newsletter, out today.

Biotech conference call postponed. USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service has called off a conference call that was supposed to take place Thursday to review for stakeholders its proposal for overhauling its regulation for biotech crops. No new date has been set. 

There’s a lot in that proposed rule that supporters of the administration and biotechnology will like. But it’s not surprising that the briefing would be delayed given the sweep and potential impact of the proposed rule. And the new administration is certain to take a second look at it. 

The Food and Drug Administration, on the other hand, is going forward with plans for a public meeting on another hot-button issue, the use of the term “healthy” in food labeling. That meeting will be March 9 in Rockville, Md. 

Comment extension denied. Something else that may not be delayed is a federal assessment of the status of the lesser prairie chicken, a species ensnared in disputes in the southern Plains states. 

The Fish and Wildlife Service has refused to extend a 90-day comment period, drawing the ire of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, which says the agency is “violating the spirit” of the regulatory freeze.

Trump has hold on RFS. One set of regulations that was hit by Trump’s freeze on rules is the Renewable Fuel Standard requirements for 2017. The RFS would increase the mandated volumes that refiners have to use. 

Jordan Fife, an ethanol trader in Houston, said the value of the Renewable Identification Numbers, the credits that refiners need to comply with the RFS mandates, dropped by 60 cents to the lowest level since November 2015. 

But Bob Dinneen, president of the Renewable Fuels Association, isn’t worried about the delay in the new RFS, since the mandates will still be effective for the entire year regardless when they are released. The delay “is simply procedural,” he said. 

Spencer Chase contributed to this report.  


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