Congress returns, looking toward 2017 priorities


Issue Date: November 30, 2016
By Christine Souza

Lawmakers returned to Washington, D.C., this week to finish out the "lame duck" congressional session, which is expected to conclude on Dec. 16. Many observers expect a relatively quiet session in the wake of the November election, but some issues of interest to California farmers and ranchers could be debated.

"Now that Republicans are assured less friction next year in accomplishing their policy goals, there is little interest in tackling big issues during the lame duck," Josh Rolph, federal policy manager for the California Farm Bureau Federation, said. "The only thing that must get done, to avoid a shutdown, is to fund the government past Dec. 9."

Rolph said most analysts expect Congress to extend government funding at the current year's levels until March, by which time President-elect Donald Trump will be in office.

"That gives time for Republicans to pass a funding bill that has their full stamp of approval," Rolph said.

House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., has said Trump prefers a continuing resolution, but the main unknown at this point, Rolph said, is whether or not the continuing resolution will contain policy riders or funding limitations. Some Republicans prefer a "clean" continuing resolution, but other members of Congress are pushing for specific policy riders on a variety of issues.

The ongoing drought in California is one priority that could be addressed, Rolph said.

"The Water Resources Development Act and energy reauthorization have both been priorities for lame duck, though the potential for action on either is slipping," Rolph said, noting that the energy bill has been seen as the vehicle to insert language by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Rep. David Valadao, R-Hanford, to address the drought in California.

"Talks are ongoing, but it remains to be seen whether the bill will be considered," he said.

Lawmakers could also take up defense authorization legislation. The measure has been held up over a House provision that would bar the sage grouse from being listed under the Endangered Species Act.

Looking beyond the lame-duck session, the CFBF Federal Policy Department said farmers and ranchers could expect the following during Trump's presidency:

  • The president-elect has pledged to keep the farm bill together and will likely support safety net programs such as crop insurance.
  • The new administration could show a willingness to invest in infrastructure, including perhaps federal drought legislation for California.
  • Trump has promised to eliminate "job-killing" U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulations in the first 100 days of his presidency. This includes rules such as the controversial "waters of the United States" proposal that significantly expands the scope of the Clean Water Act.
  • The new administration could conduct a top-down review of the Endangered Species Act, with the goal of providing more transparency, using the best available science, incentivizing species conservation, protecting private property rights and eliminating unwarranted costs on landowners.
  • Farmers should expect renegotiation of trade deals, such as the North American Free Trade Agreement, and an uncertain future for the Trans-Pacific Partnership and Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.
  • The new administration and Congress are expected to preserve the Renewable Fuel Standard.
  • There could be tax relief for farmers and ranchers, including a reduction in tax rates on family farms to 15 percent and elimination of the estate tax.

The day after the election, CFBF President Paul Wenger said Farm Bureau would provide the Trump administration and the new Congress with "our best advice on how federal policies can benefit the economy and environment in rural California."

Noting that Trump had spoken frequently about both trade and immigration, Wenger said Farm Bureau will "make the case to the Trump administration and the new Congress about how reducing trade barriers benefits the rural economy, and we'll discuss ways to assure that farmers and ranchers who depend on an immigrant workforce remain able to provide jobs to those who want them."

(Christine Souza is an assistant editor of Ag Alert. She may be contacted at csouza@cfbf.com.)

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.