Almost all of the attention in Washington these days is on the ongoing negotiations to raise the debt ceiling. The President and Congressional leaders have been meeting almost daily to try to resolve differences over changes in taxes and spending. However, there are few signs that an agreement is near. Now at least some members of Congress are proposing a plan that would allow the president to raise the debt ceiling without the approval of Congress. What is surprising is that this proposal comes from Republicans – not Democrats.
It’s an effort by members of Congress to absolve themselves of responsibility for raising the debt ceiling. With the impasse in the negotiations, this may be one way for the country to avoid default. The Senate will not debate a bill that would eliminate the need for farmers and others to get permits to apply pesticides under the Clean Water Act any time soon. The permits would be in addition to any label requirements or restrictions already in place for the use of the pesticides. The bill has passed the House but it is under hold in the Senate with no resolution in sight. EPA is required by a court decision to implement a permitting plan by October 31 unless Congress takes action.
The long-discussed agreement between the U.S and Mexico that will allow Mexican trucks to operate in the U.S. has finally been signed. The U.S. has effectively blocked trucks from Mexico ever since the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was signed in 1994. A NAFTA dispute panel ruled almost a decade ago that the U.S. ban violated the agreement and in 2009 Mexico began imposing retaliatory tariffs on some products. Half of the tariffs, covering about $2.4 billion of U.S. products will be lifted as soon as the first Mexican truck permit is granted. The other tariffs will be lifted when the first Mexican truck complies with U.S. certification requirements. But some U.S. lawmakers say they will propose legislation to prevent the agreement from going into effect.
Committees in both the House and the Senate have approved recommendations to the Administration on the three pending free trade agreements with South Korea, Panama, and Colombia. However, the recommendations from the House are different from those in the Senate with respect to the Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) program. The Senate version includes a renewal of the TAA in the FTA with South Korea while the House version does not. The Obama administration has said renewal of TAA is a prerequisite for submitting the free trade agreements to Congress for approval. The administration drafts implementing language for the FTAs and Congress can only vote to approve or reject them.
The GAO says the existing network of trains, trucks and barges is sufficient to accommodate the sale of 15 billion gallons of ethanol by 2015. However, the Government Accounting Office (GAO) says there are about 159,000 retail gas stations and most will need to install one new underground storage tank system and new fuel pumps to handle E-15. The cost for these changes would total more than $19 billion. GAO says that several billion dollars will need to be invested in infrastructure to handle the additional 21 billion gallons of advanced biofuels that are mandated by 2022.
The Obama administration has proposed a set of voluntary guidelines designed to encourage food makers to reduce salt, sugars, and fats in foods and drinks targeted to children. Under the guidelines food manufacturers would not target advertisements to children for products that do not meet the standards. The standards would be voluntary and the government would have no enforcement capabilities. Still some food companies call the government’s guidelines job-killing overreach. Federal agencies are accepting public comment before formalizing the proposals.