Commentary: New administration brings advocacy opportunities
By Josh Rolph
The political dynamic in Washington, D.C., has changed with the inauguration of a new president and the early days of his administration. Farm Bureau will continue to pursue policy improvements wherever possible with the new administration and Congress.
Photo/Architect of the Capitol
Last Friday, when Donald J. Trump became our nation's 45th president, America's political landscape changed just as starkly, if not more so, as it did during the transition from George W. Bush to Barack H. Obama on Jan. 20, 2009.
Let's rewind the clock to recall both the hopes and anxieties on that day in 2009, as concerned farmers expected negotiated free trade deals to die and nationwide "cap and trade" to become a reality. Many were skeptical that health care could be nationalized after President Clinton's failed attempt a decade prior, and others were hopeful a comprehensive immigration plan could finally become law. Eight years later, none of these hopes or fears were realized.
Besides the failed predictions, there was that which we didn't expect to have happen—such as the estate tax going away temporarily in 2010 under a Democratic, pro-estate-tax Congress. We failed to foresee that President Obama would agree to an exemption level of $5 million, indexed to inflation, marking the least onerous estate tax in a century (aside from the 2010 year of repeal).
In January 2009, we also didn't expect 2011 enactment of the sweeping Food Safety Modernization Act, a progressive law that would for the first time mandate enforceable federal standards on growing and harvesting fruits and vegetables.
We didn't anticipate the expected 2012 Farm Bill would be delayed to become a 2014 Farm Bill, or that a guestworker program with a good chance of passage would disappointingly fail in 2014.
And no one could have predicted in 2015 the imposition of the Clean Water Rule (also known as the "waters of the U.S. rule") without legislation, or that California would enter a prolonged period of drought with years of attempted legislation that wouldn't pass until the last weeks of the Obama presidency.
Who could have possibly guessed that the Trans-Pacific Partnership would not only be negotiated by President Obama, a staunch protectionist during the 2008 campaign, but that it would also be blocked by formerly free trade-espousing congressional Republicans and criticized repeatedly by the Republican presidential nominee?
There's no question Farm Bureau's work on drought relief, trade, the estate tax, WOTUS, FSMA, immigration, the farm bill and more, shaped the debate of the last eight years and had a significant influence. We will continue to pursue policy improvements wherever we can.
In the California Farm Bureau Federal Policy Department, we worked collectively on all these policy issues and many more throughout the Obama years, spending time with Farm Bureau members and our policy committees to develop policy to best represent California agriculture in Washington.
Just as there were hopes and anxieties eight years ago that didn't pan out exactly the way we had thought, the same principle may also apply to the coming administration.
Which brings us to now, the first days of the Trump administration. Some issues we can safely predict: an end to Obamacare and a reversal of controversial regulations, such as the WOTUS rule, to ease regulatory burdens businesses have carried for far too long.
There are also major uncertainties regarding many of the biggest concerns in California. At the top of the list is a permanent solution to our water woes, because without water, California agriculture cannot sustain itself.
Building on the gains made with last month's passage of the California drought bill, we need more water storage and to update environmental laws that continue to allow pristine water to flow out to the ocean instead of to the farmers who have paid for it. Rep. David Valadao, R-Hanford, has introduced a bill, H.R. 23, the Guiding Responsibility on Water Act or "GROW Act," that would address many of these important changes.
After more than two years of inaction on immigration, it is high time for Congress and the president to assure a legal agricultural workforce. There will certainly be challenges. Unsympathetic members of Congress in key committee posts will continue to focus only on border enforcement. Farm Bureau will work to assure the president develops an understanding of agricultural labor. This will remain a priority issue for us.
On Monday, President Trump officially withdrew from the TPP trade agreement. Farm Bureau will continue to work with the administration to encourage it to pursue policies that allow California and American farmers to compete fairly to win markets in the Asia-Pacific region (see story). And should the president decide to reopen the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico, we will advocate for keeping agriculture out of any rewrite.
We will also advocate for estate tax repeal, for changes to FSMA that make it less burdensome for farmers, for a solution to wildfire funding, for bringing back science in crop-protection regulations, advancing other tax reform provisions and for provisions of particular interest to California during negotiation of the next farm bill.
We will need Farm Bureau members to stay informed and ready to act when the opportunity arises. If we know anything about the changed political dynamic in Washington, it is that when we unite, we will have the best opportunity to make a difference.
(Josh Rolph is Federal Policy manager for the California Farm Bureau Federation. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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