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NCGA Lobbyist Sees Threats and Opportunities

Congress would take actions helpful to agriculture and rural America, but it also may trim important farm programs, Jon Doggett, the National Corn Growers Association veteran lobbyist, told members at an issues briefing at the Commodity Classic in Phoenix, Arizona, Wednesday.

Doggett, who was recently promoted to executive vice president of the farm group, said that an important step to getting a trade agreement with Pacific Rim nations could be passed in the Senate as early as this week or next. That’s granting trade promotion authority (TPA) to the president, which speeds up the process of voting on trade agreements in Congress.

“We’re moving forward. We’re getting close,” said Doggett.

The TPA vote, which has more opposition from Democrats and organized labor than from the GOP, could give more momentum to current negotiations over a proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership, which has already hit tough bargaining from Japan over its protections of agricultural commodities.

There is also a chance that Congress will pass a highway bill with increased funding for bridge and road repairs, he said.

“Are Republicans bold enough to raise the gas tax?” he asked. There is talk among some members of the party of doing that. Doggett said he thinks they’re starting to hear from constituents who are concerned about local bridges and roads.

Doggett said that agricultural interests may not escape efforts by Congress to cut spending, however.

Even though the USDA budget is a small fraction of total federal spending, it could be a target because much of the federal government’s spending goes to Social Security and other entitlements.

“Nondefense discretionary funding is less than 17% of the total federal budget,” Doggett said, and 35% of that goes to grants for state governments.

If Congress looks at discretionary spending and doesn’t touch spending on defense or entitlements, “this could be the way the farm bill gets opened up,” he said.

Doggett acknowledged that most of USDA’s budget supports food stamps, now called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. Yet cutting spending may not focus on SNAP alone, he said.

“Yes, there’s a lot of concern about SNAP spending, but there’s a lot of concern about the things that are important to us — crop insurance, Title I, and Conservation,” he said. Title I of the farm bill includes the commodity programs that farmers and landowners are in the process of choosing at Farm Service Agency offices across the nation.

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