TCFA members face scary issues from Washington
By Jennifer M. Latzke
The topic on everyone's mind at the annual Texas Cattle Feeders Association annual meeting Oct. 31 in Amarillo, was the ongoing drought and how it will affect the cattle industry for years to come. However, members also had the opportunity to hear about the tricks and treats coming from Washington, D.C., from Sen. Pat Roberts, R-KS, who is the ranking member of the Senate Ag Committee, as well as Rep. Frank Lucas, R-OK, who chairs the House Agriculture Committee.
Roberts began by discussing his Regulatory Reform Act, which is supposed to make regulatory agencies review the regulations they already have on the books with a cost-benefit analysis, through the committees of jurisdiction and the General Accounting Office. It would also place a moratorium on any new regulations until such a review was complete.
"The president said just last week at a fundraiser in San Francisco that we'd lost our vision, our imagination, ambition and willingness to do the things like build the Golden Gate Bridge," Roberts said. "My friends, if we started to build the Golden Gate Bridge today there would be lawsuits and environmental impact studies and it would be built with union wages and some other blocks and we'd never get it done. It made me upset when he said we don't have ambition, imagination or willingness." He added that constituents he speaks with have a fear that their individual liberties are at risk.
Lucas expanded on this, saying that President Barack Obama believes in the John Maynard Keynes model of economics, whereby the more money that is pushed through the federal government means the more spending decisions the government can make for the people because the people are not qualified to make decisions for themselves.
"There is a philosophical struggle in our nation's capitol right now," Lucas said. "Pat and I have faith in you to make your own decisions. The other perspective, though, truly believes Uncle Sam knows better."
Roberts and Lucas both spoke about the changing bureaucracy and the influences of federal employees and appointees on regulations that affect farmers and ranchers.
As House Ag Committee chairman, Lucas has tried to spend his time conducting oversight hearings with secretaries and administrators who should answer for regulations that are coming out of their departments and agencies.
"Oversight is an important part of the process," Lucas said. "You bring in a secretary or directors and you say to them in front of the cameras and the world, where in the process do you have the authority to do that? Why are you doing that? Where in the federal law do you have the authority? Most of the time you get the attention of the bureaucracy but not all of the time."
In this current environment, though, where the House is controlled by Republicans and the Senate is controlled by Democrats, it's very difficult to make things happen, he said.
Roberts and Lucas both spoke about the spending cuts to any farm bill that comes in the current deficit budget environment. The super committee--or Gang of 12--is tasked with cutting $12.2 trillion from the deficit, Roberts said. Lucas explained that the super committee can craft a single package that is unalterable, not amendable and considered under limited debate in both houses.
Now, while this is an unusual opportunity to get a grip on our country's spending problem, Lucas added, he and Roberts and their fellow House and Senate ag leaders agree that rural America and U.S. farmers and ranchers should only have to shoulder their fair share of budget cuts and no more.
"Myself, Collin Peterson, Chairman Stabenow and Frank, we're trying to put together a package of cuts for the committee," Roberts said. "We gave them a number, a suggestion of cuts using a scalpel." In theory, if the committee accepts this more tailored number the committees would know in advanced the funding they face in writing a farm bill--which could possibly be pushed until after the election year.
Roberts said he has two priorities in crafting new farm legislation: strengthening and preserving crop insurance and protecting agricultural research funding.
"We have 6 to 7 billion people in this world and we'll have 9 to 9.5 billion people in two decades," Roberts said. "If we continue in the same kind of policy that was started by Eisenhower in the Food for Peace Program, and carried on by Bob Dole and others on a humanitarian basis, we're going to have to double agricultural production and you can't double agricultural production without research.
"Show me a country that cannot protect itself in regards to its own food production and I'll show you a country in chaos," he continued. "Just look at the Middle East. So, this gets to be a national security issue that you're involved in. It's about providing world stability, and I can't think of anything more important than that in these times."
Lucas said he's concerned, like many of his fellow livestock producers, with the Renewable Fuels Standard and other ethanol incentives tightening up stocks available for livestock feed. While the ag committee doesn't control the RFS or Blenders' credits, it does control CRP enrollment, he said.
"The market signals that have been given to farmers is that we don't have enough grain, and so CRP enrollments are down from 32 million acres to 29.5 million acres," Lucas said. Let the market make the decision, and not legislation, he added.
With the extreme drought in the southern Plains region, Lucas said he's even more committed to keeping livestock provisions in the farm bill to help producers regain their footing.
The Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration and Country of Origin Labeling were also hot topics for the audience. Roberts said GIPSA has violated seven specific legislative recommendations.
"That's an abrogation, constitutionally of executive power," Roberts said. As it's been written is contrary to the legislative intent that was voted upon.
As for COOL, both Roberts and Lucas said they believe any World Trade Organization decision upon COOL will not be favorable to the United States, and adding more WTO cases that are unwinnable isn't in the best interest of American farmers and ranchers.
"I don't know of any market study conducted that shows American consumers will buy more American products with labels in the store," Roberts said. "And this courts danger in the WTO. I hope we can change people's minds."
Both said that protecting ag interests in the High Plains is their main priority for the future generations of farmers and ranchers to come.
"This is the hand that we've been dealt and we'll do the best with it that we can to survive this process and protect rural America, our farmers and ranchers, and our processing industry and all the folks who put food on tables here and around the world," Lucas said.
Jennifer M. Latzke can be reached at 620-227-1807, or firstname.lastname@example.org.