With White House status quo, other leadership shifts will shape direction of farm and dairy legislation.
LAS VEGAS -- For U.S. agriculture and the dairy industry, leadership changes in Cabinet posts and various committees of Congress will be the biggest impact of Tuesday’s election, a lobbyist said here today at the Elite Producer Business Conference.
A key question is whether USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack will remain in his Cabinet post, said Dana Brooks, senior vice president of government relations for the National Milk Producers Federation.
“I’m guessing he’ll leave,” Brooks said during her “The Election’s Over: Now What?” session.
“Since 2009, Vilsack has given everything [the dairy industry] asked for,” she said. “He stepped up to the plate. He has done an amazing job for us. His departure would be a loss.”
“Best-case” replacements for Vilsack include former senators who have been involved in agriculture, she added. Brooks pointed to Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.), who lost her seat in Tuesday’s election, as well as to retiring senators Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) and Max Baucus (D-Mont.) as positive potential ag secretaries.
Promoting from within USDA – especially if it's someone who doesn’t care about agriculture – would constitute a worst-case scenario for a new USDA Secretary, Brooks said.
Although a very few races were still being counted Tuesday morning, Brooks said, it’s assumed that Republicans will continue to dominate the U.S. House of Representatives and Democrats will continue to lead the U.S. Senate.
Congressional leadership will be determined next week, with John Boehner (R-Ohio) expected to remain in the key leadership position in the House. On the House Agriculture committee, U.S. representatives Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) and Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) are likely to remain as chairman and ranking member.
Having Lucas and Peterson hold their key posts “will be great, because we’re still working for a farm bill, and they understand dairy policy,” said Brooks. “It will be very good to have that status quo. They work well together.”
Every single committee in the Senate will see a change, “so we’ll have to start over,” Brooks said. Leadership changes in the budget, finance and agriculture appropriations committees, where members have been involved in the farm bill process and are “friends of dairy,” mean “big losses for agriculture,” she added.
Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) is expected to retain her chairmanship of the Senate Agriculture Committee.
Brooks said she expected Congress to take up the farm bill during the Lame Duck session.
Immigration reform is more likely to be addressed during President Barack Obama’s second term, “although it should have been done a decade ago,” she added.
The conference, hosted by Dairy Today, drew nearly 500 dairy producers and industry representatives this week.