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What the Elections Mean for the Farm Bill

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By NACD Director of Government Affairs Coleman Garrison

On Tuesday, Nov. 6, as a result of mid-term elections, the House of Representatives flipped to Democrat control while Senate Republicans added to their ranks. While several races are still outstanding, the election went mostly as political pundits predicted. As of today, Republicans have picked up three seats in the Senate holding a 54 seat majority, and Democrats gained approximately 30 seats to flip the House. These changes will impact farm and conservation policy over the longer-term in the next Congress but also hold near-term impacts when Congress returns later this month for a lame duck session.

In the House, Congressman Collin Peterson (MN-7) will most likely be the next Chairman of the House Agriculture Committee. Meaning, he sets the agenda for the committee in the next Congress. Peterson will almost certainly look at the effects of the Trump Administration’s trade agenda and how it is affecting rural America and the rural economy. Additionally, it is likely the House Agriculture Committee will hold more oversight hearings of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), especially related to the department’s consolidation, reorganization and agency relocation.

With the House flipping, several current Republicans on the committee will have to leave considering Republicans will lose seats when the committee’s ratio flips. It is likely that freshman members who have only served on the committee for a Congress or two will leave.

In the Senate, the difference will not be as profound as in the House. Senator Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) will most likely continue to be the Chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee and Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) will continue to be Ranking Member. Two Democrat members on the committee lost their races: Senators Heidi Heitkamp (D-S.D.) and Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.) both lost their elections. Therefore, a larger Republican majority means the committee could either add an additional Republican or alternatively lose a Democrat.

The biggest question in the immediate future is how the elections will influence the farm bill. If both chambers had flipped, the farm bill would likely either look more like the Senate’s version or be delayed until next Congress meets in January. However, with only one chamber flipping, it is more likely than not that a farm bill will get done this year. Congressman Peterson has expressed several times that he wants a farm bill this year to start next Congress with a clean slate. If the farm bill process starts again in the new Congress, that will take away time and attention from Peterson’s other issues that he would like to focus on.

The fate of the farm bill passing this year will come down to whether House Republicans are willing to compromise on some of the controversial items in nutrition and if Senate conferees are willing to compromise on smaller issues throughout the bill, including conservation. NACD has laid out a clear path to compromise in the Conservation Title to get a farm bill this year. Ultimately, we believe all four committee chairmen and ranking members want a bill this year. All who have an interest in the farm bill should reach out to the farm bill conferees and encourage them to get it done this year.

NACD is analyzing how the mid-term elections will impact other issues of importance, including the review of the Endangered Species Act, in subsequent blog postings. For more information, please contact NACD Director of Government Affairs Coleman Garrison at coleman-garrison@nacdnet.org.

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