With the midterm elections now in the rearview mirror, lawmakers in Washington, D.C., can now refocus on important topics ahead such as the 2018 Farm Bill.
As previously covered in WLJ, the House and Senate passed their respective versions of the farm bill this summer and began conference committee meetings prior to the midterm recess to resolve differences in language from both sides.
Following the election, Rep. Collin Peterson (D-MN), House Agriculture Committee ranking member, said on a press call that he wants to get the legislation passed this year. Peterson is poised to become the chairman of the committee next year when Democrats take control of the House but is still focused on work that needs to be done now, he told reporters. “My whole thing is to get this farm bill done.”
Reacting to the election and pending farm bill, Colin Woodall, senior vice president of government affairs for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA), seemed optimistic that bill will be passed. He referenced Peterson’s comments, noting, “He has already said that he wants to get this done regardless of the changes that came about last night [Nov. 6]. I think we are going to put a lot of faith in those comments and hope that they can get it done.”
Woodall also noted that not getting a bill done this year creates uncertainty for farmers and ranchers. He went to say the principal agriculture leaders prior to the election—Peterson, Rep. Mike Conaway (R-TX-11), and Sens. Pat Roberts (R-KS) and Debbie Stabenow (D-MI)—will still be in place, although Peterson and Conaway will switch places as chairman and ranking member.
If not passed before the end of the year, Woodall agreed, it would create some backwards movement. He noted, “All four of those primary members we just talked about are under pressure to get this thing done because agriculture wants to know what the game plan is. They would like to know before they get into planting season in the spring of 2019. That’s another motivation to get this done.”
The American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) is also looking for quick resolution to the farm bill with Andrew Walmsley, director of congressional relations, telling WLJ, “The conditions in farm country haven’t changed. Our folks are still struggling and would welcome the certainty of a five-year farm bill. My conversations today [Nov. 7] with House and Senate Ag Committee is that they are all committed to getting a farm bill done and I think you have seen that publicly by Mr. Peterson and the four principals saying the same thing.”
Walmsley said he believes lawmakers are “worn out and want to get this done.” Adding, “I think they’ve got enough work put together that it could move very quickly.”
The elections changed the balance of power in the House to Democrat, which means House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA-12) is presumed to be the next speaker, a position she previously held from 2007-2011. Her positive relationship with Peterson could help push the farm bill through the House. Walmsley explained, “I think on both sides of the aisle there is a lot of respect for Mr. Peterson, and I think he has a good relationship with Pelosi, who is expected to be speaker. They have a good relationship. There is no indication to us that there is a real inkling by either side to punt this to next year. It doesn’t get any easier. It leaves a lot of questions. We are still optimistic that we can get it done.”
Beyond the farm bill, Woodall said NCBA will continue to follow other topics including endangered species and environmental issues. He noted, “We are going to lose some ground on our efforts regarding Endangered Species Act modernization. We really only had two years to get this done and the House and Senate were not able to make that happen.”
Woodall noted that the new chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee is expected to be Raul Grijalva (D-AZ-3). With that in mind, Woodall told WLJ, “He will never touch the Endangered Species Act, so all efforts to make any improvements to the Endangered Species Act are gone. They have been taken from us.”
If Pelosi takes the reins in the House, Woodall said NCBA still sees hope to accomplish some of its work. He noted, “Congresswoman Pelosi has been speaker of the House before and we were able to get things done back then as well. Just because there is a change of power in the House does not mean that all of our policy efforts are going to go away. We will still have the opportunity to be successful. We may have to look at some different opportunities than what we were working on, and the Endangered Species Act is a great example.”
Woodall concluded, “Just because the Democrats are in charge of the House does not mean that we are going to be left in the cold.”
Walmsley also touched on the topics AFBF will continue to follow and fight for, saying, “From trade to foreign policy to endangered species to innovation in agriculture, those are all hot-button issues for our members. Some of that will be focused through administrative changes. Others will look to Congress to find some help.
“A divided government sometimes makes it more difficult, but also if the Democrats decide they really want to govern, bipartisanship typically works out for agriculture because everybody needs to eat.”
Both NCBA and AFBF told WLJ they made efforts to educate candidates on issues important to agriculture prior to the election and they will continue that work once new lawmakers take office in January. — Rae Price, WLJ editor