Farm bill clears Senate, what’s next in DC?

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With the bipartisan passage of the Agricultural Act of 2014 in the U.S. Senate today and signing of the bill expected by President Obama soon, it may leave many in agriculture wondering “what’s next?” Roger Bernard, policy analyst for Informa Economics, Inc., was on hand at Cattlemen’s College to talk with cattle producers about what they can expect from Congress and the Obama Administration in 2014.

Congress While implementing the Farm Bill will be the top focus of USDA, elsewhere in Washington, lawmakers will have topics ranging from the federal budget to trade and immigration top of mind before focus turns to the congressional elections in November. With regard to trade, Bernard said Trade Promotion Authority legislation, also known as “fast-track,” could influence trade opportunities in the coming year if it is passed by Congress. TPA, which was last authorized in 2002 and expired in 2007, gives the President the authority to negotiate free trade agreements, Congress the opportunity to consider and vote on the agreements. Importantly, TPA creates mandatory deadline requirements, with limited debate and no amendments, for congressional consideration to prevent delaying of agreements or amendments that would change the negotiated agreements.

NCBA and other agricultural organizations support TPA, and with the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership in the works, many are hopeful to see quick passage of TPA. Bernard said opposition to TPA from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) could cause a challenge to its quick passage.

Bernard also discussed potential immigration reform during the Cattlemen’s College session. He said immigration reform comes down to four major issues:  addressing border security; including E-verify in a reform package; addressing challenges with seasonal workers, especially in agriculture; and reaching consensus on a path to earned citizenship. The final issue, regarding a pathway to legal citizenship, Bernard said will be a contentious one in Congress. Additionally, another challenge will be the final approach to any type of reform. The Senate has already passed a comprehensive immigration reform package but the House leaders have begun to take a more piecemeal approach.

Finally, Bernard talked briefly about the 2014 congressional midterm elections. Highlighting predictions made in the Cook Political Report, Bernard said he anticipates that Republicans will retain the majority in the House. With regard to the Senate, which many consider to be more in play than the House, Bernard said among senates currently held by Democrats that will have elections this November, Democrats must defend seven seats in states that were won by Mitt Romney in 2012.

How much actually gets accomplished in Washington, D.C., in 2014 is yet to be determined, but there is potential for issues that have tremendous impact on cattle producers to be considered this year. 

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