November 11, 2016
As we prepare for our first Administration change in eight years, the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) wants to ensure that a diverse coalition of family farmers and ranchers, conservationists, and local and regional food enthusiasts have a place at the table.
The election of any new President comes with many challenges and opportunities. In this time of change, it is more important than ever that we in the sustainable agriculture community make our priorities clear, and that we take the opportunity to continue to shape the direction of agricultural policy for the next four years and foreseeable future.
As the dust of the election continues to settle, we offer a basic breakdown of where things stand.
Though final tabulations are still in process, President-Elect Donald Trump is likely to emerge with 306 electoral votes to Secretary Hillary Clinton’s likely 232. Also likely, is that Clinton will emerge the winner of the popular vote by a narrow margin – roughly 48 percent to 47 percent, with 3 percent to Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson and 1 percent to Green Party candidate Jill Stein. The last time a presidential candidate won the popular vote but lost the election was in 2000, when Vice President Al Gore ran and lost against then Governor, George W. Bush.
In the Senate, Democrats will have gained two seats, leaving Republicans with a slightly narrower margin of control at 51-48. Senators Angus King and Bernie Sanders are both Independents, but caucus with the Democrats so we have included them in the 48. Louisiana will determine its new Senator in a runoff election on December 10. Overall, Republicans won six of the eight most competitive Senate races (FL, IN, MO, NC, PA, WI) and Democrats won two (NV and NH).
In the House, Republicans maintained solid control, with Democrats picking up six seats. Four races, however, remain undecided, including two heading to a runoff election in Louisiana.
Among the handful of closely watched congressional races with agriculture policy significance, it appears that only one member of the House Agriculture Committee was handed defeat – Representative Brad Ashford (D-NE-2), who lost narrowly to Republican Don Bacon. Representatives Jeff Denham (R-CA-10), Rick Nolan (D-MN-8), and Tim Walz (D-MN-1) all won competitive re-elections. Only one of the six members of the Senate Agriculture Committee up for reelection, Senator Michael Bennet (D-CO), faced a close contest. Bennet prevailed along with the other five.
No members of the Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittees running for reelection in either the House or Senate lost. Both the Agriculture and Appropriations Committees have vacancies however, due to retirements. We will provide a complete rundown of those vacancies in a later post.
President-elect Trump is expected to name his food and agriculture transition team soon. According to some published – though unconfirmed – reports, Kansas native Mike Torrey will be leading that effort. As a long-time Republican agricultural lobbyist, trade association representative, and former staffer to Senator Bob Dole, Torrey is well known in policy and agriculture circles. The team, once assembled, will work closely with the outgoing Democratic team at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to ensure a smooth transition.
NSAC, like many other agricultural groups, will be submitting recommendations to the new transition team on our priority issues, including: new and beginning farmers, food safety regulations, immigration, agricultural research, and conservation. There are many administrative actions that could be taken in the early days of the new Administration to improve prospects for family farmers and rural communities, and we will be sure to underscore and outline those opportunities for President-elect Trump and his team.
There are still important policy activities left to the 114th Congress – arguably the most important items on the to-do list will be determining the outcome of the government funding bills for fiscal year (FY) 2017, which started on October 1. Discretionary government funding is currently operating on a continuing resolution (CR) through December 9, by which time a new bill will be needed to avoid a government shutdown. For more background, and for details about the issues at stake in the agricultural spending bill, read our earlier post.
For the Republican majority in the House and Senate, their choices on appropriations remain much the same as before the election: reach a compromise deal and pass the final FY 2017 spending bills; pass a second short-term continuing resolution and punt final action into February or March of next year; or pass a full-year continuing resolution, keeping government spending for FY 2017 identical to spending in 2016 for each of the thousands upon thousands of line items.
The election results may have tilted the field more in the direction of option #2, kicking the can down the road until early next year when the Republican majority would be negotiating with President Trump rather than President Obama. There remain, however, strong bipartisan reasons for taking care of this year’s business this year — an option NSAC strongly favors. Congress’ ultimate decision should become clear within the next week or two.
Many farm commodity groups and trade associations are continuing to beat the drum for approval of the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal during the lame duck session. President Obama’s strong support notwithstanding, President-elect Trump’s intense opposition to TPP during the campaign makes the potential success of that effort unlikely.
Agricultural groups also continue to look for some solution to address the shortage of agricultural workers. Considering, however, the President-elect’s expressed desire to focus his immigration work on increasing border security, even limited Congressional action on immigration to deal with pressing farm labor concerns is unlikely to take place anytime soon.
The major regulations to implement the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) have already been issued, though there are several more minor final rules yet to come. We are also awaiting numerous additional guidance documents that will help to interpret the new rules on tap. Whether FSMA regulation of farms by the Food and Drug Administration remains on the same course that the Obama Administration set will be something to watch out for as the new Administration settles in – during his campaign President-elect Trump has been extremely vocal about his opposition to regulation (in relation to agriculture as well as many other industries) and regulatory agencies, but said little or nothing about FSMA in particular.
Lastly, the Obama Administration is expected to soon issue proposed Farmer Fair Practices Rules to help implement and enforce the Packers and Stockyards Act, an important and long overdue action strongly supported by NSAC and other farm organizations. The proposed rules will have public comment periods that carry well into the new Trump Administration, and will thus ultimately be settled by the new Administration. See NSAC’s previous blog posts for more background on this issue.
Farm Bill First
Last, but definitely not least, is the 2018 Farm Bill. How the Trump Administration approaches the farm bill remains to be seen, with very few hints offered during the campaign. One notable bright spot, however, was Trump National Co-Chair and Senior Policy Advisor Sam Clovis’ affirmation during the campaign that the Trump Administration will seek to keep nutrition and farm programs together in the same bill.
Preliminary action on the next farm bill is likely to take place in 2017, even if the final bill does not materialize until 2018. Be ready for these discussions to begin in earnest early next year.
With Republicans in control of both the House and Senate, the next Congress will mark the first time that a single party controlled both houses for a farm bill since 1990 – when the Democrats controlled both the House and Senate, though not the White House. The last time the Democrats controlled the House, Senate, and White House during a farm bill was 1977. The last time the Republican Party achieved that farm bill trifecta was 1954. That is, of course, until now. It has often been said that farm bill politics is more regional than partisan, however, and there is good reason to believe that will continue to be the case for the 2018 Farm Bill negotiations.
NSAC remains committed to a vision of agriculture in which a fair food system is powered by a diverse community of farmers who are able to make a decent living pursuing their trade, while protecting the environment, and contributing to the strength and stability of their communities. As we enter a new Congress and a new Administration, we will continue to look for every opportunity to support policies that foster and strengthen the sustainable agriculture community. We will continue to fight for independent family farm agriculture, racial equity, high level farm conservation and land stewardship, agricultural diversification, fair and competitive markets, local and regional food system development, and vibrant rural and urban communities.