Back in July, Kansas State University economist and ag-policy expert Barry Flinchbaugh delivered the keynote address to the Cattle Feeders Business Summit, sponsored by Merck Animal Health in Denver. The organizers asked him to outline political trends and project changes livestock producers could expect following the 2012 elections.
Flinchbaugh began by warning the audience not to expect much change. President Obama, he predicted, would win re-election. Democrats would retain a majority in the Senate, and Republicans would retain their control of the House of Representatives. Flinchbaugh’s predictions astounded the audience, many of whom preferred a different outcome. But as we now know, he was right. So the question remains: What can farmers and ranchers expect in terms of legislation and agricultural policy over the next few years?
Generally speaking, we can expect a whole lot more of the same, says Colin Woodall, NCBA’s vice president for government affairs. Some faces have changed, but the same balance of power likely will mean much of the same partisan pressure and gridlock that has characterized the past two years.
But it’s not all bad, Woodall says. NCBA and industry lobbyists have experience with the Obama administration and congressional leaders. They’re familiar with the philosophies and personalities of key decision makers.
Woodall also notes that the Senate and House agricultural committees have demonstrated willingness and ability to work in a bipartisan manner. The Senate Agriculture Committee, under the leadership of Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), introduced a bipartisan farm bill that passed a Senate floor vote. The House Agricultural Committee, under the leadership of Rep. Frank Lucas (R-Okla.), also passed its version of a farm bill, but as of late November it had not succeeded in bringing it to the floor for a vote.
Farm Foundation president and economist Neil Conklin, PhD, says the current polarization and partisanship regarding farm policy, and agriculture in general, are not unique to our time. In the years following World War II, proponents of mandatory supply control fought a highly ideological farm-policy battle against those who wanted to get the government out of agriculture by eliminating the New Deal farm programs. At the same time, critics of mechanization in agriculture fought against the “tractorization” of agriculture, much as today’s anti-technology factions attack biotechnology, antibiotics, hormones and “factory farming.”