If you read this column before the election, that is fine. If you read it after you cast your vote, that's fine, too. Because either way, the issues the next Congress will deal with will remain the same. And you will have evaluated a list of issues critical to agriculture and your customers.
Of course, there are two sessions to be considered. The lame duck session of the current Congress could be drastically affected by the election results. If Republicans take the Senate, the Democrats could go all out to attempt to pass bills what will have no chance in the new Congress. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's iron fist will determine what is considered or not. If the Republicans do not win the Senate, the time pressure will be off the Democrats.
Keep in mind, two races could have runoff contests in December and later.
How issues will be dealt with will certainly be affected by the makeup of the new Senate. No one's absence could be more felt than Sen. Reid's, as the dam he constructed holding back most legislation would be broken.
Almost no one has talked about the Supreme Court but a seat or two could come up in the next two years. Ruth Bader Ginsberg is 81, Stephen Breyer is 76 and, often the swing vote, Anthony Kennedy is 78. The long-term effect of appointing justices is often overlooked by the electorate. And even Sen. Reid did not attempt to change the two-thirds majority required to confirm Supreme Court justices, making a Republican Senate a defense against appointments of very liberal judges in President Obama's last two years.
Seldom has rural America had such a pivotal role in determining the fate of a house of Congress, and perhaps, the future direction of the country, as it has in this year's midterm Senate elections.
All out agricultural states like Kansas, South Dakota, Montana, Iowa, Arkansas and major ag states like Colorado, North Carolina, Kentucky, Georgia, West Virginia and Louisiana are key to control of the Senate. Most are close or very close races in which only a few votes will carry the day.
Recall also that the majority party not only appoints committee chairmen but sets the agenda and gets the majority of member on each committee.
So what are key issues that could and should be dealt with in the new Congress?
- Immigration - Remember the Senate immigration bill considered anathema to many Republicans dies with the end of this Congress. A new bill or bills can be proposed without the threat of Sen. Reid outmaneuvering Republicans in a Conference committee. The tens of thousands of children materializing at the border last spring began changing attitudes about border security. Added to the twin threats of Ebola and increased terrorism at home, the atmosphere may have changed enough for immigration reform that contains enough border security to satisfy conservatives. How the effects of illegal immigrants on the electoral balance can be resolved with the need for substantial guest worker reform could happen in the next Congress. However, everything depends on President Obama's promised executive order and all those millions of blank electronic green cards that have been requested.
- Trade - The resolution of the mCOOL issue will finally be forced. The Keystone XL pipeline, given the need for jobs, will be pressed harder. It has been demonstrated for the doubting that increasing American's oil supply does lower gas prices. The U.S.' poor performance in resolving the mCOOL issue could impact negotiations on the TPP and TTIP trade agreements, agreements that could have the biggest impact on U.S. trade since NAFTA. A Republican senate would remove the biggest roadblock to essential Trade Promotion Authority – Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Important things are happening with two key trading partners, Japan and China. Japan, determined to resurrect its economy, wants to boost trade and surprised many by announcing a major government effort to inject money into their economy. China has signaled interest in more beef trade with the U.S. but is dealing with serious democracy protests in Hong Kong that will draw out the hardline attitudes again.
- EPA and Department of the Interior – A raft of regulations in proposed or contemplated stages need more congressional oversight, a more involved Senate, rather than the hands-off attitude of the current Senate. WOTUS, energy issues, restrictions based on wildlife species and other property rights issues top the list.
- Dietary Guidelines - Animal agriculture needs the new Dietary Guidelines to be reevaluated in light of the potent new information in Nina Teichholz's book, The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat and Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet. The advisory committee meets again Nov. 7. The scientific community and the government have led us down the wrong dietary path for decades. Secretary Vilsack seemed unaware of the book and its message just recently. We need aggressive congressional action on this issue to counter the existing dietary bias resulting from aggressive Senate action in the 1970s on poorly researched dietary theories. Sterling demonstrations of government bungling, including at the CDC, could provide the atmosphere for pushing back against government nutrition and health guidelines that have proven ill-advised and certainly not provided the slim populace the low fat, high-carb disciples promised.
- Unions - the National Labor Relations Board's naked efforts to boost unionizing efforts, especially as they affect McDonald's and other franchised restaurant chains, needs to be dealt with soon. We cannot allow the long and tortuous route through the courts to fix this problem.
- Obamacare - Insurance plan cancellations, rate increases, doctors and hospitals patients can no longer access, subsidy controversies and other issues are coming to a head. A Republican Senate could see outright repeal measures land on the President's desk, using reconciliation that only requires 51 votes.
- Scandals - The next two years might finally see – especially with a new Senate pushing hard – the resolution of serious scandals like those involving the IRS, Benghazi, NSA, VA and others. We never did find out how a key EPA official pretended to be a CIA agent for years. Who knows what else is going on at EPA or Interior. And the CDC, an agency critical to food producers and processors, has not covered itself in glory over Ebola.
We could on but you get the idea. The makeup of the next Congress is critical, races are close in cow, hog and corn country, our national security is at stake and recent research even shows millenials are doubting the left, given the poor economy and low job numbers. Confidence in this administration and government in general is historically low. Now is the time to take advantage.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Steve Dittmer, a veteran in agricultural policy and commentator.