US Infrastructure Bill Seems Difficult Amidst Funding Disputes: House Majority Leader

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said passage of legislation seems quite difficult this year without a consensus that involves President Donald Trump and congressional Republicans over how to pay for it.

“Getting infrastructure done means paying for it,” said Hoyer of Maryland. “And while everybody wants to invest in infrastructure, it is more problematic from many perspectives of how you pay for that.”

The comments came as the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee was told by the leaders of the Chamber of Commerce, AFL-CIO, American Trucking Associations and American Society of Civil Engineers that they endorse raising the gas tax by 20 to 25 cents over the next five years to pay for roads, bridges and other infrastructure.

Trump said in his State of the Union address last month that he’s eager to work with lawmakers on a public works plan. But Trump hasn’t championed ways to pay for it, and he suggested Tuesday that investigations Democrats have begun into him, his family and business could jeopardize efforts to get an infrastructure bill passed.

“I’d rather see them do legislation, we negotiate out legislation,” Trump told reporters. “We have so many things, things we agree on like infrastructure, but they want to focus on nonsense.”

Trump Plan

Hoyer said passage also will depend on whether Trump will move beyond his proposal last year that would provide $200 billion in federal spending over a decade, mostly to spur states, localities and the private sector to spend the balance of a promised $1.5 trillion in infrastructure improvements. Hoyer said Democrats want more “meaningful” federal funding.

Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal of Massachusetts told reporters that he is aiming to develop an infrastructure funding proposal in the coming months, but it would have to be developed “in tandem” with the White House, including public endorsements from Trump. Otherwise, Republicans would attack Democrats for any revenue increases they propose for improving roads and bridges, lawmakers said.

“We need a public commitment from President Trump and that is very difficult to get,” Texas Democrat Lloyd Doggett said, adding that without Republican commitments, “we will have a true bridge to nowhere.”

Republicans also expressing skepticism a deal can be made.

“It’s the trillion dollar question, how are you going to pay for it,” said New York’s Tom Reed. “There is no trust.”

Neal said he wants to bring back Build America Bonds, subsidized debt that former President Barack Obama’s administration created to encourage states and cities to increase spending on public works. “I think it’s a very efficient way to raise revenue,’’ Neal said.

India Likely To Impose Retaliatory Tariffs On US Goods Worth $10.6 Billion

India is likely to impose retaliatory tariffs on US goods worth $10.6 billion after the Trump administration concluded upon removing duty benefits on $5.6 billion wortg of Indian exports by May, after the collapse of trade negotiations. 

In June 2018, India has decided to levy higher tariffs on products such as almonds, apples and phosphoric acid in retaliation to the US unilaterally raising  customs duties on certain steel and aluminium products. However, India deferred implementation of the decision as talks were going on between the two sides for a trade package.

The next deadline for the tariffs to kick in is 1 April.

“We are weighing all our options. The retaliatory tariffs may kick in either after the current deadline ends or before that. We are reserving our right to drag the US to the WTO (World Trade Organization) as the GSP (generalized system of preferences) withdrawal violates the principle of non-discrimination,” an Indian commerce ministry official said, on condition of anonymity.

The GSP programme allows duty- free entry of around 1,900 products from India into the US, benefiting exporters of textiles, engineering, gems and jewellery and chemical products. The United States Trade Representative (USTR) in April last year announced that it was reviewing India’s GSP eligibility on the request of the US dairy and medical devices industries, given India’s alleged trade barriers affecting US exports in these sectors.

“India has implemented a wide array of trade barriers that create serious negative effects on United States commerce. Despite intensive engagement, India has failed to take the necessary steps to meet the GSP criterion,” the office of USTR said in a statement late on Monday.

During the recently concluded Trade Policy Forum talks, US commerce secretary Wilbur Ross had also raised concerns regarding new trade barriers created by India, hinting at the stringent e- commerce rules that have affected US companies, including Amazon. com Inc. and Flipkart owner Walmart Inc.

India’s commerce secretary, Anup Wadhawan, in a hurriedly-called press briefing, said that disproportionate demands from the US led to the collapse of talks, although India was ready to offer the US greater market access in agricultural products.

Wadhawan said the US brought new issues to the negotiating table, apart from medical devices and dairy products on a “self-initiated basis”.

These include issues related to market access for various agriculture, animal husbandry and, information and communications technology products, including mobile phones.

“India was able to offer a very meaningful way forward on almost all the US requests. In a few instances, specific US requests were not found reasonable and doable at this time by the departments concerned, in light of public welfare concerns reflective of India’s developing country status and its national interest,” Wadhawan said.

The official cited earlier said the US demanded reversal of the price caps on coronary stents and knee transplants immediately under a new trade margins regime, which India could not agree to, given the public interest involved at a time of impending general elections.

Wadhawan said the impact of the US action on India’s exports will not be very significant as the duty benefits are worth only $190 million on exports worth $5.6 billion.

Sachin Chaturvedi, director general at Research and Information System for Developing Countries (RIS), said India must prepare to take a firm stance against the US.

“We have been soft on the US. All undue concessions should be done away with and (the pending) retaliatory tariffs should be announced soon,” he added.

An official in the ministry of external affairs said on condition of anonymity that India would continue to work with the US to find a solution as there are 60 days left.

“We have been pointing out to them that US exports to India have gone up by 30% in the past year and this has come in a globally depressed market. Oil and gas imports from the US are increasing,” he added.

Former trade secretary Rajeev Kher said India should not subordinate its policymaking to a third country. “The US can’t bully us into adopting an e-commerce policy, which is contrary to our interest, if that is the objective. Our exporters need to be more competitive in any case,” he added.

Oil Prices Continue To Drop After 3% Downfall On Trump’s Tweet

Oil prices continue to drop down after falling 3% in the last session as U.S. President Donald Trump tweeted that oil prices were too high and that the OPEC should work on bringing them down. 

“Oil prices getting too high. OPEC, please relax and take it easy. World cannot take a price hike – fragile!” said Trump.

Fear of short supply from U.S. sanctions on Iranian oil exports and production cuts by OPEC and Russia drove WTI to nearly $77 a barrel and Brent above $86 last year.

In the past, Trump has said oil should not sell for more than $40 a barrel and should ideally trade at $25.

His comments contradicted with Goldman Sachs’ (NYSE:GS), which forecasted Brent to peak around $67.50 a barrel in the second quarter, citing technical support and a number of other bullish factors, including production cuts by the OPEC+ alliance.

In December, OPEC and a group of 10 producers outside the cartel, led by Russia, agreed to collectively cut production by a total of 1.2 million barrels per day (bpd) during the first six months of 2019.

Top exporter and OPEC’s de-facto leader Saudi Arabia recently pledged to cut even more production than the deal called for.

U.S. Crude Oil WTI Futures last traded at $55.16 by 11:02 PM ET (04:02 GMT), down 0.6%. International Btent Oil Futures traded 0.3% lower to $64.71.

On Monday, Trump announced that he is delaying a hike in tariffs on Chinese goods. The news boosted Asian equities but failed to lift the oil market as the tweet was largely overshadowed by Trump’s comment on oil prices.

US-North Korea Summit Minutiae to Be Revealed Soon

The US special representative on North Korea, Stephen Biegun, was to say in a speech Thursday that the United States remains “clear-eyed” and wants a firm accounting of Pyongyang’s weapons programs as part of any deal.

US President Donald Trump on Thursday said the details of his upcoming summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un will be announced next week — and that a date and place had been settled.

“We’re going to announce it very soon. We’ll be announcing early next week and they very much want the meeting,” Trump told reporters in the White House.

“I think most of you know where the location is. I don’t think it’s a great secret,” he added, touting what he called the “tremendous progress” made with Pyongyang.

Trump held a historic first summit with Kim in Singapore last June to try to persuade the reclusive North Korean strongman to give up the country’s nuclear weapons.

The American president has come under fire at home from critics who say that Kim has not taken enough concrete steps toward denuclearization to be given a second summit.

“Before the process of denuclearization can be final, we must have a complete understanding of the full extent of the North Korean WMD and missile programs through a comprehensive declaration,” Biegun was to say in a speech at Stanford University, according to excerpts.

“We must reach agreement on expert access and monitoring mechanisms of key sites to international standards, and ultimately ensure the removal or destruction of stockpiles of fissile material, weapons, missiles, launchers and other weapons of mass destruction.”

If North Korea follows through, “the United States, will, in return, exceed anything previously thought possible,” Biegun was to say.

US Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats said Tuesday that North Korea would resist pressure because its leaders see nuclear weapons capability as “critical to regime survival.”

Trump on Thursday pushed back against intelligence leaders who publicly disagree with his foreign policy positions on North Korea, Iran and Syria.

“I disagree with certain things that they said, I think I’m right,” he said. “Time will prove me right probably.”

Election Campaign Is in Full Swing in US

Trump, a Republican, has strong backing from the politically influential US evangelical movement, which early on decided to overlook multiple lurid reports regarding his private life.

President Donald Trump has plenty of detractors, but for spokeswoman Sarah Sanders, he has support from above.

“I think God calls all of us to fill different roles at different times and I think that he wanted Donald Trump to become president,” Sanders says in an interview to be aired by the Christian Broadcasting Network.

“Don’t Help Elect Trump” Was the Rallying Cry At the Former Starbucks CEO

A day after Howard Schultz said he might run for U.S. president, a heckler shouted “don’t help elect Trump” at the former Starbucks CEO, voicing concerns that his independent bid could help President Donald Trump win re-election in 2020.

In an interview with CBS’ “60 minutes” aired on Sunday, Schultz said he was seriously thinking of running as a centrist independent in 2020.

Democrats immediately urged Schultz to think again, saying he would take votes away from the Democratic Party nominee.

“Don’t help elect Trump, you egotistical, billionaire, a****le,” shouted the heckler at a Schultz book promotion in New York City on Monday.

“Go back to Davos with the rest of the billionaire elite who think they know how to run the world,” the heckler added, before being pulled aside by security.

In an on-stage interview at the book event, Schultz was asked if he would drop out of the 2020 race if polls showed his candidacy would help re-elect Trump.

“If I decide to run for president as an independent, I will believe, and have the courage and conviction to believe, that I can win,” Schultz said. “I’m certainly not going to do anything to put Donald Trump back in the oval office.”

Schultz described himself as a “lifelong Democrat,” but said Americans were tired of the “revenge politics” of the Republican and Democratic parties.

No independent candidate has ever won a U.S. presidential election, although some have played the role of third-party spoiler.

Political Spat in US on its Highest Gear

The ongoing battle over what is usually a mundane process is unfolding as little progress is being made toward ending the partial shutdown that began Dec. 22. The Senate on Tuesday teed up votes for later this week on dueling measures to reopen shuttered federal agencies, although neither bill is expected to advance.

President Donald Trump is preparing two versions of the speech – one that could be delivered in Washington and another that would be held somewhere else in the country, depending on the circumstance, according to a senior White House official. Meanwhile, the administration is trying to conduct advance work to prepare for an address in the House chamber, originally scheduled for Jan. 29, even though Pelosi has the power to determine whether Trump can do so.

The White House is forging ahead with State of the Union preparations despite no commitment from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., to hold the annual address at the Capitol, further escalating the political tit-for-tat between the two leaders as the federal government remains partially shuttered.

“Nancy Pelosi does not dictate to the president when he will or will not have a conversation with the American people,” a White House spokesman, Hogan Gidley, said Tuesday to media. “The President has an incredible story to tell about how far we’ve come in this country economically, in a national security capacity.”

Gidley accused Pelosi of “trying to play politics with that venue.”

Last week, the House speaker sent a letter to Trump, requesting he postpone the State of the Union, citing security concerns related to the impact of the budget impasse on the Homeland Security Department. Postponing or canceling the address during the shutdown standoff would also deny Trump the pomp and circumstance of the annual event where president’s lay out their agenda for the coming year before a national audience.

Trump Eggs on Democrats for Mexican Border Wall Financing

The president Trump called for $800 million in “urgent humanitarian assistance” and $805 million for drug detection technology to help secure US ports of entry.

US President Donald Trump on Saturday offered to temporarily shield a million immigrants from deportation if Congress authorizes funding for his Mexican border wall — an idea Democrats rejected, making the US government shutdown likely to grind on.

Trump attempted to seize the initiative in ending the 29-day partial shutdown, a funding freeze that has left many important government departments relying on unpaid or highly reduced staff.

His bargain, announced in a televised White House address, held out the carrot of protection from deportation for two categories of immigrants.

These include 700,000 so-called “Dreamers,” children of people who settled illegally in the United States, and who have become a favorite cause of the Democrats, as well as 300,000 other immigrants whose protected status is expiring, Trump said.

The president said these concessions would “build the trust and goodwill necessary to begin real immigration reform.”

In return, Trump demanded the $5.7 billion he says is needed to extend fences on the border with Mexico, something the opposition Democrats have repeatedly refused to authorize. That has prompted the president to retaliate with the government shutdown, which he triggered by not signing off on funding to swaths of departments.

“I’m here today to break the logjam and provide Congress with a path forward to end the government shutdown and solve the crisis on the southern border,” Trump said in his address.

Trump describes the US-Mexico border — for decades a magnet for migrants and asylum seekers, as well as a major drug smuggling route — as overwhelmed, posing a threat to US national security.

Democrats, who accuse Trump of using his illegal immigration crackdown to score political points with his right-wing base, spurned the latest negotiating offer as soon as it was leaked in the media prior to the speech.

Turkey Gets Intimidation from President Donald Trump

Turkey had reacted angrily to suggestions that Trump’s plan to withdraw troops was conditional on the safety of the US-backed Kurdish fighters, seen by the Turkish government as terrorists.

President Donald Trump warned Turkey on Sunday of economic devastation if it attacks Kurdish forces in the wake of the US troop pullout from Syria, while also urging the Kurds not to “provoke” Ankara.

Trump took to Twitter to reveal some of his latest thoughts in the slow drip-drip of information being released by his administration after his shocking December announcement of the troop withdrawal.

His top diplomat Mike Pompeo is on a whirlwind regional tour aimed at reassuring allies amid rising tensions between the US and Turkey over the fate of Washington’s Syrian Kurdish allies in the fight against the ISIS.

Pompeo also sought to reassure Washington’s Kurdish allies in the fight against ISIS, who fear the departure of American troops would allow Turkey to attack them.

“Will devastate Turkey economically if they hit Kurds,” Trump tweeted, while pushing for the creation of a 20-mile (30-kilometer) “safe zone.”

“Likewise, do not want the Kurds to provoke Turkey.”

Trump did not detail who would create, enforce or pay for the safe zone, or where it would be located.

US-led operations against ISIS in Syria have been spearheaded on the ground by the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).

Ankara sees the backbone of that alliance, the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), as a terrorist group linked to the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK) which has fought a decades-long insurgency against the Turkish state.

An estimated 2,000 civilians remain trapped in the area around the town of Hajin, the United Nations said.