Straight From D.C.: Farm Policy Outlook for the 114th Congress

Straight From D.C.: Farm Policy Outlook  for the 114th Congress

Shifts in committee leadership could mean less support for tax matters and RFS

The Republican party is in control of both the House and the Senate for the first time since 2006. Unlike the last time, during the Presidency of George W. Bush, GOP Congressional power is pitted against a Democratic president, so any changes in agricultural policy will occur via some sort of bipartisan process, either with Congressional Democrats or the President (or both), or they won’t become law.

Both the House and Senate Agriculture Committees have leadership changes. In the House, Rep. Mike Conaway (R-Texas) takes over from Rep. Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) as chairman, who was term-limited. Rep.
Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) stays on as the ranking member. Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) is taking over as Senate Committee chairman, as Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) becomes the ranking member.  

Out of 11 key pieces of ag-related legislation that could advance, only three fall solely under the jurisdiction of both Agriculture Committees:

  • a bill to establish national standards for labeling GMO content in food
  • a bill encompassing GOP efforts to improve the efficiency of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program
  • a bill to either modify or repeal Country of Origin Labeling rules found to be inconsistent with World Trade Organization disciplines.

A fourth bill, needed to reauthorize the Child Nutrition Act, would be crafted by the Agriculture Committee in the Senate but would be handled by the Education and Workforce Committee in the House. Rep. John Kline (R-Minn.) will continue to chair the House Education and Workforce Committee, while Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.) takes over as the ranking member.

Among other key committees, the Senate Finance and House Ways and Means Committees, which have jurisdiction over trade deals and tax matters, are chaired by leaders who have not shown much support for agricultural policy. The new House Ways and Means Committee chair is Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), who was willing to put both commodity and nutrition programs on the chopping block in his budget proposals when he chaired the House Budget Committee. On the Senate side, the new chairman is Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), taking over for Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), who moves to the ranking member.

Any immigration bills will originate in the House and Senate Judiciary Committees. On the Senate side, new committee chairman Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) will likely be more accommodating of agriculture’s views on immigration than his predecessor, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), who moves to the ranking member slot. Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) and John Conyers (D-Mich.) stay on as the chair and the ranking member of the House
Judiciary Committee.

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and the House Energy and Commerce Committee have jurisdiction over the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), a climate change skeptic from an oil-producing state, becomes chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, while Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) moves to the ranking member. This change is not positive for RFS. Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) continues to chair the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) becomes the ranking member.

Any challenges to EPA’s proposed rulemaking clarifying the definition of Waters of the United States under the Clean Water Act will come from the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) remains chair of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, and Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) takes over as the ranking member.

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