Federal Dairy Issues Update by Charlie Garrison

To say that it has been an interesting time in Washington, D.C. since the November 8th election would be an understatement. Members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives returned to Capitol Hill following the election to finish some last minute business, including another short-term bill to keep the federal agencies funded through April, and have adjourned this session of Congress and headed home for the holidays.

When the 115th U.S. Congress is gaveled to order on January 3rd, Republicans will find themselves in control of the House, the Senate and the White House for the first time in more than a decade. That will mean a complete overhaul of the agenda with the President-elect releasing his list of priorities for the first 100 days in office and leaders on Capitol Hill preparing to advance legislation that the White House will support.

President-elect Donald Trump has named most of his cabinet picks. Senate confirmation hearings for those nominees will begin in January. This will be the first new administration that will be able to get nominees confirmed with only 51 votes in the Senate instead of the 60 votes that are needed to end a filibuster. Under new rules implemented by Democrats when they were in the majority administration appointees and federal judges, with the exception of Supreme Court Justices, need only a simple majority for confirmation. Republicans control the Senate 52-48 so, technically, they could confirm all the cabinet nominees with party line votes. Especially at least at the start of a new Congress Republicans will want to work on a bipartisan basis so there will be some time and effort spent to get votes from the Democrats on those nominees.

With Republicans in the House and the Senate in agreement with the President-elect, repeal of the Affordable Care Act, also known as “Obamacare,” is expected to be an early agenda item. That effort is likely to require a procedural maneuver known as budget reconciliation to allow it to pass with only a simple majority in the Senate. Republican leaders on Capitol Hill are reportedly working on a viable replacement plan that could be put in place before the next federal elections in November of 2018.

A look at the electoral map from this past November 8th clearly shows that by-and-large it was rural America that elected Donald Trump President. Farmers all across the country are hoping that their policy priorities will be front and center with the new administration. Right off the bat it looks like regulatory reform will be a priority for the Trump White House and Republicans in Congress. For example, agriculture and other land use industries are looking for a fresh start on the “Waters of the U.S.” rule by the EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Farmers will also be looking for some certainty about whether the provisions of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act apply to agricultural operations. It is clear the Congress intended to exempt agriculture from that law that was passed to regulate solid and hazardous waste but a recent court ruling put that into question. The Idaho congressional delegation was supportive of clarifying legislation in the last Congress and IDA will continue working with them on a new bill again next year.

President-elect Trump has announced that he plans to nominate the Attorney General of Oklahoma, Scott Pruitt, to be head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Pruitt has sued the EPA during his time in office in Oklahoma seeking to have the courts rein in the agency on some if it’s rulemaking. Agriculture is looking for an altogether different approach on federal regulations aimed at clean air and water for the next few years – an approach that recognizes that farmers are the original environmental stewards.

Tax reform is also a stated priority of the new administration and leaders of both parties in Congress. While there could be many improvements to the tax code resulting from reform, IDA will continue monitoring various proposals and working with Senators Crapo and Risch and Representatives Simpson and Labrador to ensure that tax policy makes sense for Idaho’s dairy producers. Namely, the ability to use cash accounting, 1031 or “Like-kind” exchanges on property, Section 179 expensing and bonus depreciation remain important to our industry. Eliminating the Estate Tax and Capital Gains taxes are also priorities. While we support a tax code that is simpler and fairer, we want to make sure that provisions important to farmers aren’t negatively affected to raise revenue that might be lost with the enactment of other priorities like lower business and Capital Gains tax rates.

The agriculture labor force remains an issue of deep concern for IDA members. Much of the campaign rhetoric about immigrants was deeply troubling to farmers who rely on foreign-born labor to plant, tend and harvest their crops and care for their animals. IDA has a strong working relationship with the Idaho congressional delegation on this very complicated issue and we’ve already met with each of them and their staff in Washington, D.C. to prepare for opportunities to move agriculture worker visa legislation that works for dairy producers early in 2017. IDA will also continue leading on the issue of immigration reform that works for dairy farmers within organizations in Washington, D.C. like the Agriculture Coalition for Immigration Reform (ACIR) and the National Immigration Forum (NIF). In fact, Bob was just named Treasurer of NIF at its board meeting earlier this month.

The Farm Bill is another subject that will receive a considerable amount of attention in Washington, D.C. this year. The farm economy is vastly different than when the current bill was written in 2014 and many of the commodity sectors are dissatisfied with the way this one is working. Even though this bill doesn’t expire until September 30, 2018, the House and Senate Agriculture Committees are expected to hold hearings to examine federal farm policy and begin taking a look at some alternatives next year. IDA will work through our congressional delegation to make sure the voice of the dairy farmers in this state are heard.

To end on a more dairy-specific note, Idaho Congressman Mike Simpson is co-leading a letter in the House of Representatives addressed to the Commissioner of the FDA asking the agency to enforce the federal standard of identity for the term milk and to stop manufacturers of plant-based beverages from using that word to label their products. In part, the letter says “As you are aware, milk has a clear standard of identity defined as ‘the lacteal secretion, practically free from colostrum, obtained by the complete milking of one or more healthy cows.’” The letter cites the section of the Code of Federal Regulations that includes the standard of identity for milk. The authors go on to say, “Milk, produced by the mammary gland, also has a unique nutritional value, providing an excellent source of protein and a wide array of vitamins and minerals, including calcium, vitamins A and D, and potassium. Plant-based beverages clearly fail to meet this standard of identity. They are unable to match the nutritional makeup of the product they mimic, yet they continue to be marketed as milk.” IDA thanks Congressman Simpson for this effort to bring this to the attention of the FDA yet again.

Immigration Reform