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Zinke brought security team to vacation in Turkey and Greece, records show

Politico | Posted on March 21, 2018

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and his wife took a security detail on their vacation to Greece and Turkey last year, official documents show, in what one watchdog group said could be a "questionable" use of taxpayer resources. Zinke has faced questions for months over his travel expenses and use of official resources, as have other members of President Donald Trump's administration such as EPA leader Scott Pruitt, who was revealed to have spent $30,000 on security for an official trip to Italy last year.

Congress strikes deal to add 'grain glitch' fix to omnibus

Politico | Posted on March 21, 2018

The $1.3 trillion government spending bill expected to be released Wednesday includes a remedy for the so-called grain glitch in the Republican tax law that gives farmers lucrative incentives to sell their products to agricultural cooperatives over other types of businesses, two House GOP aides familiar with the negotiations said. Securing the legislative language, which would amend the Section 199A deduction in the tax code, was among a host of sticking points that congressional leaders had to work out in the final hours of negotiations after Democrats demanded a compromise that would boost the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit in exchange.Democrats at one point had sworn off cooperating with Republicans to fix technical errors and unintended consequences of the partisan tax overhaul, H.R. 1 (115), which cleared Congress with great speed in December. But many vulnerable Democrats facing reelection battles this year in farm states pushed for the Section 199A remedy to be included in the spending package to respond to the outcry from their agricultural sectors back home.The House is hoping to vote on the measure Thursday, which would give the Senate just one day to clear the deal before government funding expires at the end of the day Friday.The technical points of the proposal to change Section 199A were agreed to last week by House and Senate GOP lawmakers after weeks of negotiations with two farm groups — the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives and the National Grain and Feed Association.While the problem has been dubbed the "grain glitch," it also threatened to disrupt other markets like dairy, livestock and biofuels.

Food stamps cuts could hit rural America hardest

Union of Concerned Scientists | Posted on March 19, 2018

Much attention has been devoted to rural America since the presidential election. The press, the pundits, and the public have examined it from nearly every angle, deliberating the demographic, economic, and cultural factors that may have helped the Trump campaign capitalize on the dormant discontent of a great many. But we still don’t understand some basic facts about the people and the places that make up rural America. This is partially attributable to the destructive cultural and political narratives that tell us programs like SNAP are not a rural issue. The roots of the racist Reagan-era rhetoric on inner city “welfare queens” run deep, and despite being long debunked, one needs to look no further than President Trump’s welfare reform proposals or Speaker Paul Ryan’s comment about the tailspin of “inner-city culture” to know that its legacy lives on. This explains how someone like Hal Rogers can so casually and routinely dismiss the basic needs of such a large segment of his constituency without fear of political blowback or consequence: prevailing perceptions of who relies on America’s social safety net and why have rendered these needs largely invisible. But the data are unambiguous: SNAP benefits people of every race, zip code, and political persuasion, all across this country. And when we ran the numbers—using publicly-available, county-level data on SNAP participation rates by household—we uncovered the startling reality that rural areas are often struggling the most.

Obstacles to new NAFTA deal include process for resolving disputes, ‘rules of origin’ for autos

CSG Midwest | Posted on March 15, 2018

Negotiators from Canada, Mexico and the United States have begun their seventh round of discussions for a new, or modernized, North American Free Trade Agreement. And while the dissolution of NAFTA seemed very likely several months ago, negotiations are still alive. To this point, results of the trilateral discussions have been mixed — consensus on some changes, but continued disagreement on issues such as dispute resolution and “rules of origin” that could ultimately block a new deal from being reached. According to Scotty Greenwood, CEO of the Canadian American Business Council, the big question right now is this: “Do the political leaders want to come to an agreement by late March?” If not, NAFTA discussions may halt because of Mexico’s pending presidential election. Greenwood sees three possible scenarios.1) Reach an agreement in the areas in most need of change, declare that NAFTA has been modernized, and conclude discussions. 2) Announce that there are no plans to tear up NAFTA, but that the agreement needs a comprehensive review and update. Under this scenario, negotiators would continue at their own pace. 
3) The United States withdraws from NAFT0317-MI-brownfieldsA and tries to reach separate bilateral trade agreements.

USDA Decides Not to Impose Additional Regulatory Requirements for Organic Producers and Handlers

USDA | Posted on March 14, 2018

The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced the decision to withdraw the Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices final rule published on January 19, 2017. The rule would have increased federal regulation of livestock and poultry for certified organic producers and handlers. The withdrawal becomes effective May 13, 2018. Significant policy and legal issues were identified after the rule published in January 2017. After careful review and two rounds of public comment, USDA has determined that the rule exceeds the Department’s statutory authority, and that the changes to the existing organic regulations could have a negative effect on voluntary participation in the National Organic Program, including real costs for producers and consumers.

Judge: Corps Responsible for Flooding, Damage in 4 States

US News and World Report | Posted on March 14, 2018

A federal judge has ruled that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is responsible for causing recurring flooding that damaged farms and property in four Midwest states along the Missouri River. The ruling Tuesday in Washington says the government must compensate farmers, landowners and business owners for the flood damage in Missouri, Kansas, Iowa and Nebraska. The damage has been estimated to exceed $300 million.More than 300 farmers, landowners and business owners argued in the lawsuit filed in 2014 in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims that the Corps has altered its practices regarding the river's water storage, release and flow management. The suit contended the Corps unconstitutionally deprived plaintiffs of their land, essentially taking it without compensation. Judge Nancy B. Firestone found in favor of the plaintiffs in five of the six years that the flooding was claimed dating back to 2007, disallowing the flood claims in 2011.

House defeats ‘right-to-try’ legislation to allow expanded use of experimental drugs

The Washington Post | Posted on March 14, 2018

In a major setback for Republicans, the House rejected “right-to-try” legislation that would have allowed seriously ill patients to bypass the Food and Drug Administration to get access to experimental treatments. The vote came after a spirited debate in which GOP lawmakers portrayed the measure, which was strongly backed by President Trump and Vice President Pence, as a last chance at survival for desperately ill patients. Democrats said the bill would weaken critical FDA protections without addressing the fundamental obstacles to experimental drugs. More than 75 patient groups, including the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, the American Lung Association and the Cystic Fibrosis Association, had sent a letter to House leaders saying the bill “would not increase access to promising therapies” because it didn't deal with the main barriers to experimental drugs  — the cost of drugs and company restrictions on making therapies available outside of clinical trials.

Food stamps fight threatens farm bill before it’s out of the gate

Politico | Posted on March 14, 2018

A fight over how tough to make work requirements in the food stamp program is already threatening to derail the House farm bill, which some see as one of the only shots for bipartisan legislation this year. Democrats on the House Agriculture Committee publicly revolted last week after learning that Chairman Mike Conaway (R-Texas) was eyeing stricter work requirements for some 8 million recipients of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, widely known as food stamps. Now, some influential conservatives are saying the bill may not go far enough to restrict access, especially since Republicans control both branches of Congress and the White House.

Brexit: Scotland and Wales face battle for fish and farm policy

The Guardian | Posted on March 13, 2018

The UK government has told Scottish and Welsh ministers they are likely to be barred from controlling policy in areas such as genetically modified crops, fishing quotas and farm payments after Brexit. Mike Russell, Scotland’s Brexit minister, accused Westminster of undermining the constitution after the Cabinet Office published a list of 24 areas it said were likely to need UK-wide common agreements when EU powers were repatriated.The office said it wanted to centralise control at UK level in 12 areas, including migrant access to welfare benefits, state aid for key industries, data protection, energy labelling, internet security and radioactive materials. 

Feds tell student loan companies to ignore state authority

Santa Fe New Mexican | Posted on March 13, 2018

The U.S. Education Department issued guidance Friday informing state regulators to back off the companies managing its $1.3 trillion portfolio of student loans, arguing that only the federal government has the authority to oversee its contractors.“State regulation of the servicing of direct loans impedes uniquely federal interests,” the department wrote. “State regulation of the servicing of the Federal Family Education Loan Program is preempted to the extent that it undermines uniform administration of the program.”The notice arrives as states have stepped in to fill what many see as a void in the federal oversight of student loan servicers, the companies the Department of Education pays nearly $1 billion to handle debt payments. The move has created great consternation within the industry, which has lobbied Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and Congress to prevent states from imposing additional rules and regulations. Now the department is taking action, but some legal experts say the declaration is a hollow gesture.