By now cattlemen and cattlewomen have all heard the news that the results of the election have resulted in a prolonging of the status quo. What that means in real terms to their operation is less clear. National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA) Vice President of Government Affairs Colin Woodall sums it up by saying he expects the "shackles to come off," in terms of a number of regulations which have been pending on the outcome of the election.
"We just saw the denial of the Renewable Fuels Standard waiver by the Environmental Protection Agency last week and we expect that's an indicator of things to come," Woodall explained.
Woodall expects cattle producers will see guidance on the Clean Water Act and the dust rule very soon along with other potentially burdensome regulations. Woodall also said he expects that other important priorities for cattlemen and women will be much more difficult to achieve, particularly after the "lame duck" session of Congress is complete.
"With the make-up of the House and Senate staying essentially the same, we expect the gridlock we've seen over the past two years to continue," said Woodall. "What that means is we won't have an opportunity to address the big ticket items such as the estate tax or Endangered Species Act reform for the next several years. Those are just completely off the table."
However, he emphasized that NCBA will continue to make the estate tax a priority, with the focus shifting from a full repeal to maintaining current exemption levels. The so-called Bush-era tax cuts expire at the end of the year and with them the $5 million per individual, $10 million per couple estate tax exemption levels currently in place. The top tax rate of 35 percent will also lapse. In its place will be a tax that could wipe out many farms and ranches. If current estate tax rates are not extended before the end of the year, farmers and ranchers will be taxed on assets over $1 million, and the top tax rate will revert back to a staggering 55 percent.
"Our hope is for at least a four-year extension of what we have right now. We know that for the next four years there is no way we can have a productive discussion on comprehensive estate tax reform," said Woodall. "We need to maintain what we have for the next four years to provide a little certainty. It's very hard to make any plans on a two-year basis."
Although the estate tax remains the top priority for NCBA, Woodall notes he and the Washington, D.C., staff will continue fighting on behalf of cattlemen and women on a wide spectrum of issues. However, he points out that progress will be difficult. Woodall called on cattlemen and cattlewomen to engage with their elected officials at every opportunity in an effort to help make in-roads.
"The biggest thing we need is for cattlemen and women to start introducing themselves to the staff in their congressional district offices. We know not everyone can make it to Washington, D.C., but they can make it to those district offices where there are generally a few staff members," said Woodall. "We need producers to introduce themselves to those staff members. More importantly we need them to invite those staffers out to their operations and let them see what they do. By doing that, when staffers interact with their counterparts in Washington, D.C, they can better explain what ranchers do on a daily basis. This is especially important if you have a new member of the House or Senate representing you."
Woodall said that interaction will make it easier for cattlemen and cattlewomen to more effectively express their opinions on issues that affect their operations, particularly now that the industry faces another two years of status quo.