What's ahead in Washington
By Seymour Klierly
As farmers head back to their fields, so do members of Congress, planting seeds and hoping to reap results. After a two-week break surrounding the Easter weekend, both bodies of the legislature are back in session with a laundry list of policies to advance. Across D.C., President Barack Obama and his cabinet know that they are at a critical point in their administration. Signing any piece of legislation into law will take political savvy, public support, and good timing.
At the front of most to-do lists is a vote on gun control and mental health, in response to the recent tragedies in Aurora, Colo., and Newtown, Conn. Obama’s own strategy is to call for a vote on proposed legislation, knowing full well that an agreement will be hard to come by. The Senate is already acting and the House may also force a vote to get members on record either for or against the proposals. If the legislation fails to pass the House and Senate, expect to see the administration try to enact their goals through executive orders and actions.
Federal immigration reform has been a constant need for both parties, but became a flashpoint after the elections. The momentum is finally at the federal level to address the issue. Solving the problems of security at the border as well as path to citizens for immigrants already in the states are tough issues to crack in a comprehensive fashion. The Judiciary Committee in both the House of Representatives and the Senate will be consumed with meetings and negotiations to find a workable product.
The Agriculture Committees are both in the midst of renegotiating a full five-year farm bill. After the last two years, many members positions are well known, but the change in leadership in the Senate Committee and the increased cost project by the Congressional Budget Office add new wrinkles to the stalled legislation. Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-MI, wants to have a markup of the new bill in April, but may be forced to wait until May. Likewise the House Committee under the leadership of Frank Lucas, R-OK, can move the legislation in May.
Finding floor time for the farm bill in the Senate, let alone the House may be a large roadblock this Congress. While the bill passed the Senate in a bipartisan manner last June, Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-NV, could wait until the House actually commits to considering the bill before letting the full Senate vote on the farm legislation. That is of course if he could find time between the other large and laborious pieces of legislation that are priorities for him, the administration, and the public.
Frankly, farm policy does not have the attention it deserves. Last year, public attention was only caught when news of an imminent “dairy cliff” was spread. With so many hot-button issues on the plate, the road ahead for the agriculture community will only be tougher this Congress than the last.
Editor’s note: Seymour Klierly writes Washington Whispers for the Journal from inside the Beltway.