The shift to a Republican-controlled House of Representatives means dairy interests will spend the next few months getting acquainted with new legislative leaders and staffers—and educating them on industry issues.
“The House Ag Committee will look drastically different in the next few months, with the double-digit loss of its Democratic members,” says David Hickey, director of government relations for the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF).
Rep. Frank Lucas of Oklahoma, the senior Republican on the committee, is a strong candidate to become chairman. He would replace Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Minn).
“We’ve always had a great relationship with Lucas,” Hickey says. “There has always been a bipartisan, pro-ag atmosphere on the House Ag Committee.”
Dairy sources weren’t so sure who would replace the defeated Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark) as Senate Ag Committee chair, though several pointed to Sen. Debbie Stabenow as a strong prospect. Stabenow, a Michigan Republican, was appointed to the committee in 2009.
The leadership turnover means “we have a lot of work to do,” says Jackie Klippenstein, vice president of legislative and industry affairs for Dairy Farmers of America. Pointing out that 37% of House Ag Committee members lost their seats, she adds, “We’ll need to make sure new members understand the needs of producers and our legislative priorities—and we’re going to have to understand the priorities of those legislators as well.”
With the 112th Congress facing the federal budget and deficit, legislators may consider cuts in the new farm bill. “For example, conservation programs will expire in 2012,” Hickey says.
“They’ll be looking at how to find the money to fund those.” One NMPF priority will be pushing for Foundation for the Future, its blueprint for dairy policy.
Dairy interests will also focus on the environment. “With the Republican majority in the House, greater attention will be paid to what the Environmental Protection Agency is doing,” Hickey says. “We expect [EPA Administrator] Lisa Jackson will spend more time explaining how her department is addressing things.”
Other priorities will be immigration reform and trade.
“This House will be more open to notions of free trade,” says Michael Marsh, CEO of Western United Dairymen. “And there is a slim window of opportunity in the lame-duck session to pass AgJOBs, which is still the [guest-worker reform] vehicle of choice in the dairy industry.”
Marsh says the challenge with AgJOBS has been finding enough Republican votes in the Senate to pass it. The House has had enough votes in support, but after January, that backing is not likely to be there.