Elections Set Tone as Congress Wraps Up 2018

It is impossible to predict what the lame-duck Congress will get accomplished. The reality is, the outcome of the 2018 midterm elections set the tone and agenda for the last few weeks of this session of Congress.

Many items that were on the to-do list prior to the elections have now moved to the must-do list. Members not returning in 2019 are working with their party leadership to get their priority items on the agenda. Some items that already have bipartisan support will most likely move forward without much debate. Floor time is being dedicated to passing the priority items on the agenda.

Farm state representatives left frustrated because they did not get the new farm bill completed before the elections. It is no secret on Capitol Hill that without a new farm bill, many rural constituents will not complete their 2019 business plans.

Here’s an update on four major topics on pork producers’ minds.

1. Farm bill 
Staff members of the Senate and House agriculture committees continue to hash out the details to create a final proposal of the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018. The principals of the farm bill conference committee met in October. Following that meeting they announced their intention to get a new legislation passed prior to the first of the year.

They also said they have instructed their staffers to seek compromise on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The House of Representatives bill proposes an overhaul of current requirements, while the Senate-passed bill largely leaves the SNAP requirements in place.

Congressional sources report several of the titles are completed and several others are close to being closed out. Finding a compromise on the nutrition title and the commodity title will be 
key to getting a new farm bill passed before 2019.

If finalizing the bill is pushed into 2019, members could be faced with passing an extension of the current bill. Farmers, ranchers and livestock producers are encouraging their members of Congress to get the new provisions in place as soon as possible following the midterm elections. Despite reports of record yields, depressed market prices are creating economic uncertainty for producers across the country.  

2. Trade
International trade continues to be a headline issue for the pork industry in the nation’s capital. The mid-October announcement by the Trump administration that trade discussions would be initiated with Japan, the United Kingdom and the European Union (EU) was welcome news for U.S. pork producers.

Pork producers have been pressing the administration to explore trade talks with the Asia-Pacific region that includes Japan.  

As in the past, the pork leaders are expected to press administration officials to seek an agreement with the United Kingdom that includes language to accept USDA pork and pork producers without any additional requirements.  

Congress will not get a chance to approve the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) until next year. That was the word according to Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell. Many details of the agreement need to be finalized before the trade pact can go before Congress for consideration.   

Trade policy experts are hesitant to speculate on a time frame when Congress will approve the new trade pact. 

The Waters of the United States (WOTUS) final rule is expected to be in place by September 2019. The existing 2015 WOTUS rule is blocked in 28 states and currently in effect in 22 states.  
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) officials’ plan includes the release of the proposed rule by the end of October. Agriculture environmental policy experts say a 90-day public comment period is necessary to ensure input is received from a variety of sources.

If there were a 90-day comment period, the EPA officials would not start the final rule-making process until late next spring.