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“China Announces Trade Concessions as Liu He Heads to U.S.”  This morning’s Bloomberg article leads with:

The Chinese government said it will extend a suspension of retaliatory tariffs on U.S. autos and include the opioid fentanyl in a list of controlled substances, two steps that could generate a positive atmosphere for trade negotiations due to resume this week.

Beijing temporarily scrapped the 25 percent tariff imposed on vehicles as a tit-for-tat measure on Jan. 1, after the White House delayed a rise in tariffs on $200 billion of products that had been due that day. The Ministry of Finance announced an extension of the suspension on Sunday, without giving a specific end date.

Vice Premier Liu He, China’s trade envoy, left for the U.S. on Monday, according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Chinese officials also pledged to tighten regulation on fentanyl from next month, a promise President Xi Jinping already made to President Donald Trump at a December meeting in Argentina. The inclusion of the drug as a controlled substance in a category of non-medicinal narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances will start May 1, according to the China National Narcotics Control Commission.

The moves signal China is trying to keep momentum in trade talks going as they enter what could be the final stretch before Trump and Xi are presented with a text to finalize or sign. Beijing is determined to prevent an escalation of the frictions that have hurt its economy and roiled markets, even as enforcement measures remain a sticking point in negotiations.

“This Time Probably Isn’t Different for Fannie, Freddie.”  This morning’s Wall Street Journal article leads with:

Shares of housing-finance giants Fannie Mae FNMA -5.08% and Freddie Mac FMCC -3.93% have rallied this year on expectations they could soon be released from government control. The exuberance is premature.

Nearly everyone agrees that the current system needs reform so that the two companies, which promote housing-market liquidity by purchasing and securitizing mortgages, don’t remain wards of the state indefinitely. But there are essentially two schools of thought on how to do this. Shareholders want to see them recapitalized and released from government control as soon as possible—something that could be accomplished by the Trump administration alone without congressional legislation. Advocates say the companies could be set up with enough capital and strictly regulated so that they never again pose a threat to the nation’s financial stability.

Currently, the shares are essentially worthless. They could become worth a lot, though, if the government were to end the current arrangement of directing virtually all of the companies’ profits to the Treasury, restructuring them into private, profit-seeking enterprises. Hence the shares trade as highly volatile bets on this eventual outcome.

Critics of such an approach, including many market-oriented conservatives, say it risks leaving an implicit taxpayer backstop in place for the companies should they run into trouble again. They favor a more comprehensive solution that would require new laws. Most “comprehensive” proposals envision an explicit federal guarantee on some mortgage securities and new private competitors to Fannie and Freddie.

I agree with this article’s conclusion that there’s very little chance of enacting legislation to reform Fannie and Freddie before 2021.

“Policy Risks in a Budget Crunch.”  This morning’s blog by American Action Forum President Doug Holtz-Eakin stated:

A central issue in the near-term policy outlook is the fate of the caps and sequester mechanism under the Budget Control Act (BCA). In the absence of a deal and accompanying legislation, the BCA will dictate sharp cuts to both non-defense and defense discretionary spending. The president’s budget accepts the cap on non-defense spending, but utilizes a budget gimmick (the Overseas Contingency Operations, or OCO, account) to add back $170 billion in defense spending. In contrast, the Senate Budget Committee passed a budget that accepts both caps, but embodies a mechanism to allow higher spending on both categories if the increases are offset.

That outlines the budgetary dimensions of a deal. But there is a risk that the dollars become divorced from the policy needs. Indeed, the BCA caps themselves are a tribute to this very risk. While they made the 10-year deficit smaller on paper, they were not built on a real policy foundation. Commenting on this defect in Simpson-Bowles, which featured similar caps, former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates once put it, “‘The truth of the matter is when it comes to the deficit, the Department of Defense is not the problem,’ he said. ‘I think in terms of the specifics they came up with, that is math not strategy.’” Nothing has changed in the interim.

Following the strategy of the president’s budget, for example, means that the $98 billion is in OCO. That means the budget isn’t scaled to anything like the budget caps. This exposes needed acquisition and modernization funding to funding risks. The National Defense Strategy (NDS) prioritized threats from near-peers (Russia and China) that will involve modernization to the nuclear triad. That means expensive systems such as the B-21 long-range bomber ($3 billion for FY2020), the Columbia-Class ($2.2 billion for FY2020), as well as improvement to ground-based weapons ($570 for FY2020), and nuclear command, control and communications systems ($2.5 billion for FY2020).

There are risks that are less high-profile, but not less important. For example, the current fleet is the smallest and oldest in the history of the U.S. Air Force and needs to purchase at least 72 tactical aircraft per year to support the NDS. Studies indicate the need for a future force structure that has equal parts of the latest generation (F-35 and modernized F-22) and previous generation fighters. The latest version of the F-15 (the F-15X) is the most economical way to make up the latter part of the force structure, as well as contribute to the homeland defense mission. These are often the jets “scrambled” to protect our cities, our major events and our people, coast to coast. One of the many issues facing Congress is funding the procurement of capabilities like the F-15X.

Policy decisions are rich with tradeoffs in the face of multiple threats. But those decisions should not be dictated strictly by budgetary considerations.

We Washington Budget Wonks understand the negative consequences of Congress’s broken budget process.

2020 Election: “What More Than 40 Years Of Early Primary Polls Tell Us About 2020: Part 1.”  This morning’s FiveThirtyEight article leads with:

How much can we learn from early primary polls? Back in 2011, FiveThirtyEight Editor-in-chief Nate Silver set out to answer this question and found that early national polling is at least somewhat predictive of who will win the nomination, especially when the results are adjusted for each candidate’s name recognition.

Now, eight years later, FiveThirtyEight has collected more polling data, plus there are two more presidential election cycles — 2012 and 2016 — to look at, so we felt it was time to update the series. In the first two installments, we’re just going to look at what the polls say for competitive presidential primaries for both parties, starting with early primary polls from 1972, which is widely thought of as the start of the modern primary era. This first installment runs through 1996 — analyzing primary polls for seven presidential elections is enough ground to cover in one article — and the next installment will start with the 2000 presidential primaries and run up through the 2016 presidential primaries.

                                      Washington Calendar, April 1 – April 5

President Trump’s schedule (EDT):

11:45 AM:  Meets with Secretary of State Pompeo; 

12:30 PM:  Lunch with VP Pence; and

  5:30 PM:  Hosts a 2019 Prison Reform Summit and First Step Act Celebration.

TUESDAY:       Meets with NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg and speaks at the National Republican Campaign Committee spring dinner.

WEDNESDAY: Meets and has dinner with senior military leaders. 

THURSDAY:    Meets with the White House Opportunity and Revitalization Council. 

FRIDAY:           Travels to Calexico, CA for a border visit, and then Los Angeles and Las Vegas.

11:00 AM WEDNESDAY: NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg will address a joint session of Congress.

The Senate will return at 3 PM today and will hold a cloture vote at 5:30 PM on Senator Shelby’s (R-AL) $13.45 b. substitute amendment for the House-passed $14.2 b. disaster relief bill, H.R.268

The House will return noon today with votes postponed until 6:30 PM on four Homeland Security Committee bills from the Suspension Calendar.  Tuesday afternoon, the House is expected to pass H.Res. 271, “Condemning the Trump Administration’s Legal Campaign to Take Away Americans’ Health Care” and three post-office naming bills from the Suspension Calendar.  Wednesday and Thursday until 3 PM, the House is expected to pass H.R.1585, Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act, and may take up S.J.Res.7, “To direct the removal of United States Armed Forces from hostilities in the Republic of Yemen that have not been authorized by Congress.”

Monday  1           5 PM  MARK-UP, H.R.1585,H.Res.271, S.J.Res.7, House Rules      

Tuesday  2     9:45 AM  FY20 Energy/National Nuclear Security Administration Budget, House Appropriations

                          10 AM  FY20 EPA Budget, House Appropriations

                          10 AM  FY20 Army/Air Force Budget, House Armed Services

                          10 AM  FY20 NASA Budget, House Science

                          10 AM  MARK-UP, retirement bill, IRS reorganization bill, worker bill, House Ways and Means

                          10 AM  MARK-UP, subpoenas on security clearances and the 2020 Census, House Oversight

                          10 AM  Preventing Terrorist Travel to the U.S., House Homeland Security

                          10 AM  Trade, House Small Business

                          10 AM  State/Local Climate Change Responses, House Energy and Commerce

                          10 AM  Climate Change’s National Security Impact, House Foreign Affairs

                          10 AM  Eliminating Housing Discrimination, House Financial Services

                          10 AM  Prohibiting Sex/Gender Identity/Sexual Orientation Discrimination, House Judiciary

                          10 AM  Pipeline Safety, House Transportation and Infrastructure

                          10 AM  Offshore Drilling Protecting Coastal Communities, House Natural Resources

                          10 AM  Western Water Infrastructure and Innovation, House Natural Resources

                          10 AM  Members’ Day, House Appropriations Milcon, VA

                          10 AM  FY20 Energy Dept. Budget, Senate Energy

                          10 AM  Financial Institution Governance/Investing Principles, Senate Banking

                          10 AM  Arbitration in America, Senate Judiciary

                          10 AM  Addressing Campus Safety/Student Rights, Senate HELP

Political Insider

About Pete Davis

Pete Davis

Pete Davis advises Wall Street money managers on Washington, DC policy developments that affect the financial markets. Visit his website here daviscapitalinvestmentideas.yolasite.com.

Articles by Pete Davis

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