Senate up for grabs

Legislative Watch: All eyes on Senate seats; U.S. Brazil trade deal; $1.68B CRP payments; COVID-19 aid talks slow.

P. Scott Shearer, Vice President

October 23, 2020

4 Min Read
U.S. Capitol Building
Getty Images

There are 11 days until the election and Democrats are expected to maintain control of the House and may add seats to their majority. Thus, both parties are focusing a great deal of attention on key Senate races which will determine who will control the Senate. The Democrats need to gain four seats to control the Senate and only three seats if Joe Biden is elected president.

The Republicans' best chance of gaining a seat is in Alabama where Sen. Doug Jones (D) is facing former Auburn University football coach Tommy Tuberville. The Democrats' best chances of gaining seats are in Arizona with Sen. Martha McSally (R) being challenged by former astronaut Mark Kelly and in Colorado with Sen. Cory Gardner (R) being challenged by Gov. John Hickenlooper.

Other key races at this time are in Alaska, Georgia (two Senate seats are up for election), Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Michigan, Montana, North Carolina and South Carolina.

Senate Agriculture Committee members up for election are Sens. Dick Durbin (D-IL), Joni Ernst (R-IA), Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS), Kelly Loeffler (R-GA), Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Tina Smith (D-MN). At this time, Ernst who is being challenged by Theresa Greenfield is in the toughest race with political pollsters calling it a dead heat.

Remember in every election there is usually at least one upset that was not expected.

U.S.-Brazil mini trade deal
The United States and Brazil announced they had reached a mini trade agreement that includes trade facilitation, regulatory practices and anti-corruption measures. The deal updates the 2011 Agreement on Trade and Economic Cooperation and does not need Congressional approval. Eliminating trade barriers and digital trade were not included in the new agreement.

The two countries plan to continue negotiations on a comprehensive trade agreement. However, the administration will meet strong resistance from House Democrats.

Democrats on the House Ways and Means Committee sent a letter to the administration in June stating they would oppose a trade agreement with Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro. They said, "Through reprehensible rhetoric and actions, the Bolsonaro government in Brazil has demonstrated its complete disregard for basic human rights, the need to protect the Amazon rainforest, the rights and dignity of workers, and a record of anticompetitive economic practices."

Brazil ranks as the United States' 14th largest trade partner in goods with $73.7 billion in two-way trade in 2019.

USDA issues CRP payments
USDA is issuing $1.68 billion in Conservation Reserve Program annual rental payments that cover 21.9 million acres enrolled in CRP.

Producers receive an annual rental payment for land set aside for qualified conservation practices, including soil erosion, improve water quality and enhance wildlife habitat. CRP contracts are for 10 to 15 years.

The CRP is celebrating 35 years this December. According to USDA the program successes are:

  • "Preventing more than 9 billion tons of soil from eroding, which is enough soil to fill 600 million dump trucks;

  • Reducing nitrogen and phosphorous runoff relative to annually tilled cropland by 95 and 85%, respectively;

  • Sequestering an annual average of 49 million tons of greenhouse gases, equal to taking 9 million cars off the road;

  • Creating more than 3 million acres of restored wetlands while protecting more than 175,000 stream miles with riparian forest and grass buffers, which is enough to go around the world seven times; and

  • Benefiting bees and other pollinators and increased populations of ducks, pheasants, turkey, bobwhite quail, prairie chickens, grasshopper sparrows and many other birds."

The program was established in the 1985 farm bill. The 2018 farm bill expanded the program to 27 million acres by 2023.

COVID negotiations continue slowly
Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin continue to make progress on another coronavirus aid package. Pelosi said yesterday that "we're just about there." However, major obstacles remain to be resolved. One of the issues is aid to state and local governments in which the Democrats insist has to be in the final agreement. Another issue is liability protection for employers from coronavirus-related lawsuits.

President Trump would like an agreement before the election. However, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has told the White House not to agree to any large-scale package until after the election. Senate Republicans have not shown any desire to support the $2 trillion package currently being discussed.

Source: P. Scott Shearer, who is solely responsible for the information provided, and wholly owns the information. Informa Business Media and all its subsidiaries are not responsible for any of the content contained in this information asset. The opinions of this writer are not necessarily those of Farm Progress/Informa.

About the Author(s)

P. Scott Shearer

Vice President, Bockorny Group, Inc.

Scott Shearer is vice president of the Bockorny Group Inc., a leading bipartisan government affairs consulting firm in Washington, D.C. With more than 30 years experience in government and corporate relations in state and national arenas, he is recognized as a leader in agricultural trade issues, having served as co-chairman of the Agricultural Coalition for U.S.-China Trade and co-chairman of the Agricultural Coalition for Trade Promotion Authority. Scott was instrumental in the passage of China Permanent Normal Trade Relations and TPA. He is past chairman of the USDA-USTR Agricultural Technical Advisory Committee for Trade in Animals and Animal Products and was a member of the USAID Food Security Advisory Committee. Prior to joining the Bockorny Group, Scott served as director of national relations for Farmland Industries Inc., as well as USDA’s Deputy Assistant Secretary for Congressional Affairs (1993-96), serving as liaison for the Secretary of Agriculture and the USDA to Congress.

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