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News & Media: Staff Columns

It is crystal ball time

Monday, November 12, 2018   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Lauren Brey
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By John Holevoet, director of government affairs


The 2016 election defied a lot of expectations. The 2018 midterm election was much less surprising. Republicans kept control of the U.S. Senate and added some to their majority. At the same time, Democrats took control of the House of Representatives. This was consistent with most of the predictions going into Election Day.

Now that the voting is over, a whole new round of predictions begins. What will the political changes mean for the issues we care about?

Let’s start with the farm bill. The threat of the so-called “dairy cliff” looms large. If a new farm bill or an extension are not passed by the end of the year, a reversion to permanent law would mandate government purchases of dairy products and cause a spike in fluid milk prices in the grocery store. You can expect Congress to work hard to avoid this.

This might mean passage of a compromise farm bill during the lame duck session before Christmas. Because the Democrats retook the House, this becomes an even greater possibility. The alternative would be an extension and a reset of the process with the new Congress. We know the main holdup is a disagreement over the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) work requirements. Given that the Republican votes necessary to make those changes happen in 2019 are now gone, a compromise could be even easier.

Ratifying NAFTA’s replacement, the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), also needs to be done, but the prospects for doing so in the lame duck session are weak. To use Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), there are certain statutory timeframes that need to be followed. That would make getting this done before 2019 impossible. Using TPA is important to avoid amendments from Congress that could derail the agreement. While there is technically a way to get it ratified in 2018 without the use of TPA, this is a risky proposition.

The new Congress will be the one to likely approve or disapprove of USMCA. This will be an important debate for farmers to engage on because skepticism about trade deals has grown on both sides of the political spectrum, which makes ratification a less than sure bet.  

Finally, I want to touch on where the debate over immigration might go and its implications on agricultural labor. We are proud of the work Edge has done to get more co-sponsors on the Ag and Legal Workforce Act. Still, this legislation is very unlikely to move before year’s end, and its legislative champion, Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), is retiring.

This means we will be starting from scratch with the new Congress. It is a daunting prospect, but divided government might favor some unique compromises on immigration. President Trump has shown some willingness to work in a bipartisan fashion on this issue. The challenge for Edge and other farmer groups will be to make sure that agriculture’s labor needs are not forgotten during the broader debate over modernizing our immigration laws.

Predictions are fun, but the realities can be less so. With an important lame duck session in front of us and a new Congress just around the corner, it will be as important as ever that your voice — the voice of milk — is heard in Washington, D.C. Edge’s team will be there for just that reason.

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