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The four main companies behind the U.S. meat market took heat from lawmakers over prices and working conditions. We’ll also look at fading hopes among Democrats of a deal with Joe Manchin and a kickstart to government funding talks. 

But first, find out why Britney Griner’s agent says the basketball star’s detention in Russia is tied to the U.S. gender pay gap

Welcome to On The Money, your nightly guide to everything affecting your bills, bank account and bottom line. For The Hill, we’re Sylvan Lane, Aris Folley and Karl Evers-Hillstrom. Someone forward you this newsletter? Subscribe here.

Big four meatpackers deny price fixing

CEOs of the big four meatpacking companies on Wednesday denied accusations of price-fixing, under fire from House lawmakers after reporting record profits amid soaring meat prices. 

“Was there ever an agreement between your four companies to cooperate together on issues impacting supply or pricing? I need a yes or no,” Rep. David Scott (D-Ga.), chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, asked the CEOs of beef packing companies Cargill, JBS USA, Tyson Foods and National Beef Packing.  

All four of the executives denied conspiring to manipulate the cattle market under oath.   

  • The companies, which together control more than 80 percent of the beef market, raked in a record $13 billion in profits last year.  
  • Those profits come as the price of meat soars. Ground beef prices were up 18 percent on the year, round steaks were up 14 percent, sirloin was up 17 percent and stew beef was up 24 percent. 
  • The meatpacking CEOs linked higher prices with the inflationary trends in the broader economy, which most economists say stem from supply chain disruptions caused by the pandemic. 

The background: Two of the packing giants at the hearing paid massive fines to settle lawsuits accusing them of fixing meat prices in recent years. President Biden and congressional Democrats have taken aim at the big four meatpackers as part of an effort to crack down on corporate consolidation and improve competition, which they say could lower prices. 

Karl and Tobias Burns have more here

BUILD ME UP…DON’T BREAK MY HEART 

Dems offer reality check on Manchin, Build Back Better  

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) is sketching out his vision for what a scaled-down budget bill could look like as his party eyes a second run at moving a major policy bill through a reconciliation process that would negate a GOP filibuster.   

This time, however, Democrats are playing down the chances for an imminent deal.   

The party now faces significant hurdles to renew the tax-and-spending plan at the heart of their agenda as they feel growing pressure to provide deliverables to their own voters.  

  • Manchin on Tuesday met with Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) about passing a bill to fight inflation and lower the deficit by raising corporate taxes.   
  • Sen. Dick Durbin (Ill.), the No. 2 Senate Democrat, said that there were “varying levels of optimism” within the caucus about reviving a party-line bill, adding that he is “the most skeptical” about its prospects.  
  • Democrats and the White House have acknowledged that there are conversations going on, but they are also being careful to draw hard red lines or hype their talks after they set deadlines, and missed them, repeatedly last year.   

“We either have a handshake deal or I don’t think it’s going to get done. I’d love to be wrong,” said Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.).  

The Hill’s Jordain Carney has more here

A DEAL TO MAKE A DEAL 

Top lawmakers to start government funding talks 

A group of top lawmakers are preparing to meet for the first time to discuss fiscal 2023 government funding as they eye the end of the year as an unofficial deadline to get a deal.  

Sen. Richard Shelby (Ala.), the top Republican on the Senate Appropriations Committee, told The Hill that he will meet with Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee; and House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.); and Rep. Kay Granger (Texas), the top Republican on the panel, on Thursday.  

  • The meeting will mark the first time the top four appropriators have met to talk about the next round of government funding.  
  • Technically, Congress has until Sept. 30 to fund the government, but thanks to short-term funding bills, the real deadline for the talks is the end of the current Congress, which runs through the first days of January 2023. 

Shelby acknowledged that getting a deal before the November election could be difficult, but they could “put a lot of stuff in place” for potential year-end discussions.  

Jordain has more here

DEFLATING INFLATION 

Concerns over inflation drive down Americans’ confidence in economy: poll 

Concerns over inflation are helping tamp down Americans’ confidence in the economy, according to a new poll released on Wednesday. 

A new Gallup poll shows that Americans have low levels of confidence in the U.S. economy, with just 2 percent of respondents rating the current economic conditions as excellent and only 18 percent of those polled saying it is good. 

In comparison, 42 percent polled rate current economic conditions as poor, and 38 percent rate them as fair.  

While 20 percent of Americans say the economy is improving, roughly three-fourths of Americans — 76 percent — say it is getting worse. 

Good to Know

The House on Wednesday passed a bill that would require federal judges’ financial disclosure reports to be published online, and the legislation is now headed to President Biden’s desk. 

The legislation, dubbed the Courthouse Ethics and Transparency Act, passed in the House by voice vote. The Senate approved the bill by voice vote in February. 

Here’s what else we have our eye on: 

  • House Democrats questioned the consulting firm McKinsey & Company over its simultaneous work with both the Food and Drug Administration and Purdue Pharma along with the firm’s potential role in exacerbating the opioid epidemic. 
  • Several high-profile companies, including Twitter, Airbnb, Reddit and DoorDash joined a coalition pushing Congress to enact a national paid leave program. 
  • Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is making an appeal to President Biden amid the senator’s support for unionization at Amazon: bar companies who violate federal labor laws from receiving contracts with the federal government. 

That’s it for today. Thanks for reading and check out The Hill’s Finance page for the latest news and coverage. We’ll see you tomorrow. 

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Tags Biden David Scott Dick Durbin Joe Manchin Richard Shelby

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