Congress Back in D.C. to Organize, Examine Options

November 19, 2010 Bookmark and Share

Members of Congress arrived back in D.C. this week after a long election-period recess to begin establishing leadership for the coming years and assess what can be done before the 111th Congress adjourns.

At organizational meetings this week, outgoing Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) was elected Minority Leader by her caucus, while current Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) was chosen as the next Speaker, with Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.) as the new Majority Leader.

Chatter in agriculture circles about who will take the helm at the House and Senate Agriculture Committees was answered in part on Friday with an announcement from Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) that he will keep the chairmanship of his chamber’s Budget Committee rather than take the helm at the Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee, which he had been considering.

This means the Senate Ag chairmanship will likely pass to Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), who is in line of seniority on the Democratic side of the Committee after defeated Chairman Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.); Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chairman Tom Harkin (D-Iowa); Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.); Conrad; and Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.).

In all likelihood, current Ranking Member of the House Agriculture Committee, Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) will become Chairman of that Committee, while current Chairman Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) will take his place as Ranking Member.

Members also focused this week on attempting to finish priorities remaining in this Congress.

The House failed to pass a three-month unemployment benefit extension, while the Senate postponed final action on a pending food safety bill (see related story). Senate Democrats also failed to achieve cloture for a renewable energy bill.

Additionally, both chambers and parties began contemplating how to fund the federal government for the remainder of the year. A current continuing resolution expires Dec. 3, and it now appears unlikely than an omnibus bill will gain enough Republican support to pass, meaning at least one more continuing resolution is on the horizon.

Interestingly, this week both House and Senate Republicans adopted policy banning earmarks, though some, particularly in the Senate, remain skeptical about the impact on the overall budget.

A meeting is set for Nov. 30 between President Barack Obama and leaders in both parties to hammer out what other priorities will be addressed before the end of the session. This should clarify the Congressional calendar somewhat, though the timing indicates Congress will be in town well into December.

NAWG is pressing for a number of priorities to be addressed in the coming weeks.

A plethora of tax issues remains outstanding, including action on the estate tax, tax extenders to prevent millions from having to pay the Alternative Minimum Tax and tax credits for priorities including the production of biofuels.

NAWG will be participating with a wide range of agriculture groups in a press conference scheduled for Nov. 30 to focus on the need for estate tax reform.

Also this week, NAWG and 15 other groups wrote Members of the House and Senate Agriculture Committees this week urging action on a bipartisan bill, S. 3221, which would protect eligibility for farmers and ranchers participating in the Farm Service Agency’s guaranteed farm loan programs.

Unless Congress acts this year to suspend borrower term limits on the loans, approximately 4,217 farmers and ranchers will be forced out of the program in January, making it very difficult for them to secure credit for the upcoming year.

Pending free trade agreements; legislation to open trade and travel opportunities with Cuba; legislation to clarify permitting needs for crop protection product applications; and a rail reform bill are other priorities that now appear very unlikely to be addressed in this Congress.