Former U.S. Senators Trent Lott of Mississippi and John Breaux of Louisiana headlined the 2020 annual meeting of the Delta Council, an economic development organization representing the 18 counties in the Northwest Mississippi Delta region. They offered their perspective on the outcome of the election and how a Biden administration could shape agriculture and trade policy over the next four years.
Lott, a Republican, and Breaux, a Democrat, served in Congress together for decades where they established an “across the aisle friendship.” They’re now business partners in the Washington D.C. based lobbying firm Crossroads Strategies. A desire to see more bipartisanship in government was a recurring theme in their remarks, with both men expressing optimism that President-elect Biden would work to facilitate greater cooperation.
“He’s received some criticism from some left-leaning Democrats for saying he’s going to work with Republicans, but that’s what he has to do in order to make government work,” Breaux said.
"What won’t happen"
Breaux began the presentation by addressing points of apprehension among red state voters. Namely, that the Biden administration will attempt to pack the Supreme Court, abolish the Senate filibuster, and implement a government-run “Medicare for All” health system.
“Those things are just not going to happen,” said Breaux. “They do not have the votes in the Senate.”
Technically, the Senate majority is still up for grabs, with both Senate seats in Georgia being decided in a special runoff election on Jan. 5. Democrats need to win both seats to gain control of the Senate. While Lott predicts a “knock-down, drag-out fight” in the Peach State, both Lott and Breaux expressed confidence that Republicans will retain control.
However, the tight margins in in the Senate could impact Cabinet appointments — another cause for concern among Republican voters.
“I would suggest not to worry about Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren being in the Cabinet,” Breaux said. “Both of those senators have Republican governors. If they went to the Cabinet a Republican governor would appoint a Republican senator to replace them. And that’s not going to happen.”
When asked where emphasis will be on federal spending under a Biden administration, the answer couldn’t be clearer.
“COVID, COVID, COVID, COVID and COVID,” Breaux said.
“That’s going to be a top priority. He’s already appointed a commission. The vaccine hopefully will be out in the first quarter of next year, but he’s going to start off doing whatever needs to be done about coronavirus. After that infrastructure and the Affordable Care Act.”
Lott said the priorities will be different.
“The Democrats would like to have more funds for social programs. My feeling is if Republicans hold the Senate at 52-48, Mitch McConnell is the world’s greatest defensive player, and if he doesn’t want something to get through, it won’t.”
Neither believe a stimulus bill will be passed in the lame duck session.
Biden Ag and Trade
Lott praised President Trump’s “aggressive” stance on agriculture and his work for fair trade deals.
“A lot of our trading partners including China and the European Union were taking advantage of the United States, and we weren’t doing anything about it,” Lott said. “I hope the next administration will continue to try to work out more reasonable agreements. Trade will be an issue that Joe Biden will have to focus on very quickly.”
Breaux countered that Biden will be more involved in trade details than Trump was.
“Trump sometimes shot from the hip. He got mad at a country and slapped tariffs on it without thinking it out and not understanding the negative effects on our own country.”
However, Breaux conceded that priorities could shift to urban-based policies and programs with a new party in power.
“We’re going to have to be really careful in watching some of the things that might be proposed to make sure farmers and business groups in rural America are treated fairly. There’s going to be a real tendency to undo just about everything President Trump did in this area,” said Breaux.
Ag Leadership Appointments
Who could we expect to fill key agricultural leadership roles in a new administration? With House Agriculture Chair Collin Peterson, D-Minn., losing his seat in the election, he would be available for the Secretary of Agriculture position. Heidi Heitkamp, a former Democratic senator from North Dakota, is another possibility. Breaux said both Peterson and Heitkamp would be balanced and bring a lot of experience to the role.
For U.S. Trade Representative, Lott believes Jennifer Hillman is the front runner. She has extensive experience in trade and economics as a former World Trade Organization judge, who also spent nine years on the international trade commission.
With the retirement of Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., a new chairman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture will be named. While still dependent on the run-off elections in Georgia, Lott predicts Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., will fill that role and be an asset for the Delta. One of the leading contenders to replace Peterson as House Ag Chair is Rep. David Scott, D-Ga.