It’s hard to not feel disheartened by actions on Jan. 6 no matter what side of the aisle you find yourself on. But at the end of the day, we’re all Americans. I consider myself an optimist and try to look at the glass half-full whenever I can, and all hope is not lost for those in farm country.
The outlook for the Democratic agenda looks considerably different under the Senate’s 50-50 split with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris the deciding vote and Democrats given the majority control in the chamber. However, Dale Moore, executive vice president at the American Farm Bureau Federation, spoke Wednesday at the 2021 Illinois Agricultural Legislative Roundtable and says there are some things farmers can hang their hat on in these uncertain times.
New ag committee leaders
The first is the proven leadership coming into both the House and Senate Agriculture Committees. They may not be known to those outside of agriculture, but the newly named leaders for three of the four top committee positions are familiar to those in ag circles. On the House side, Rep. David Scott, D-Ga., takes over the chairmanship helm from outgoing Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., and Rep. Glenn (GT) Thompson, R-Pa., from retired Rep. Michael Conaway, R-Texas.
A combined 86 years of experience will not be on the House Agriculture Committee heading into the next Congress as veterans leave. Scott is a longtime member of the Blue Dog Coalition – a caucus of House members who consider themselves fiscally-responsible Democrats and more pragmatic Democrats who work across party lines.
Thompson comes from a long line of dairy farmers and is no stranger to developing effective farm policy during his 12-year tenure in the House. “With very few exceptions, every bill I introduce is bipartisan. I reach across the aisle. That’s my style with committee work as well,” Thompson says.
In the Senate, Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., will now assume the chairwoman seat and Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., will assume the void left by Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., who retired. Stabenow introduced legislation during the last Congress that prioritized climate mitigation payments to farmers and has a history of bipartisan cooperation.
Moore shares that during his time at USDA, the first 60-90 days of the new administration can be the most important, but it’s also when the political team that comes in finds itself drinking from different fire hoses relative to settling into their new roles. He adds sometimes the career staff start trying to run ahead on actions, when new appointed members get acclimated.
“This is where I think we have an opportunity with Mr. Vilsack coming in, not only at USDA but with previous experience as a cabinet member, to be helpful to us in helping us all collectively stay calm relative to those issues going to be coming up in some of the other agencies,” Moore says.
Moore also says he’s heard encouraging statements from President-elect Biden’s USDA transition team and those at USDA transitioning out that they seem to be working well together.
“I’m hoping and praying that stays true as we go through the next few days,” Moore says.
Bipartisan required, maybe?
I’ve always said a one party government rarely serves the interest of Americans. When legislators start to lead with the mentality of a voter mandate when margins are slim, it is concerning.
Democrats will start the next Congress with a likely majority of only four seats, and that number will shrink to two for several months until special elections can be held when Reps. Cedric L. Richmond, D-La., and Marcia L. Fudge, D-Ohio, leave for positions in the Biden administration.
Moore says with the narrower majority in the House, Speaker Nancy Pelosi could be looking for ways to avoid, as he says carefully, the “nuisance kinds of partisan politics” coming from either the left or right field extremes.
We have some serious soul-searching in the days and months ahead, but we need to hold on to hope. And pray.