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Farm Bureau Seeks Fast Action from Congress

After its low-key convention in San Diego in January and the president’s mixed State of the Union message for agriculture, the American Farm Bureau Federation is urging members of Congress to act on EPA water regulations, speed up trade negotiations, and fund lock and dam repairs authorized by last year’s Water Resources Reform and Development Act (WRRDA).

“I think Congress is going to have to prioritize what it really wants to do in the next seven months,” says Farm Bureau lobbyist Mary Kay Thatcher. After next August’s recess, members will already be focused on 2016 election-year politics.

WRRDA, passed last year, is something like the Farm Bill, authorizing legislation that approves programs. It will still need funding this year for progress to be made on repairing locks and dams.

Bob Stallman, Farm Bureau president, sees President Barack Obama’s State of the Union message as both encouraging and worrisome. Obama’s recent move to ease trade restrictions with Cuba is backed  by Farm Bureau and commodity groups.

Obama’s call for Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) was also welcome.

“That was probably the most positive thing for agriculture in his speech,” Stallman says.

Stallman believes Congress could act on TPA within three months or sooner. The issue needs to be put on the agenda by the Republican leadership in Congress, and Obama needs to encourage members of his party to support it, Stallman says.

TPA gives the president authority to negotiate trade agreements that Congress can vote up or down but can’t amend.

Negotiations for a new Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement have the potential to further open export markets to one of this nation’s best customers, Japan, as well as other nations in Asia and South America. If Japan phases out tariffs on ag imports under TPP, it could increase U.S. ag exports to that country by $2 billion by 2025, according to USDA estimates. The Obama administration is already negotiating the TPP, but Stallman believes progress in those talks might improve if Congress votes for TPA. Farm Bureau supports the negotiations but will withhold judgment on a treaty until seeing how it affects farmers and ranchers.

When Obama says he wants to “close the loopholes that lead to inequality by allowing the top 1% to avoid paying taxes on their accumulated wealth,” Stallman finds that message worrisome. Obama wants to raise capital gains taxes, which Stallman says is “of great concern for U.S. agriculture.

“What he’s talking about would put a really heavy tax load on U.S. farmers and ranchers when land is sold or traded,” Stallman says. “I’m not too worried about it because I don’t think the Republican Congress is going down that path.”

Other Farm Bureau goals include stopping EPA enforcement of its Waters of the U.S. rule, getting legal IDs for immigrant farmworkers along with a usable guestworker program, and having Country of Origin Labeling that meets World Trade Organization rules.

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