Sometimes it’s just flat out refreshing to see Congress get something done in what has become one logjam after another in recent years. The House and Senate Agriculture Committees have used the first few months of this new Congress to get busy working on top legislative priorities as well as addressing reauthorization packages and timely needs.
This week the House Agriculture Committee quickly approved out of committee a bill to address the latest failed World Trade Organization appeal to repeal country-of-origin labeling (read more here). Although the Senate Agriculture Committee hasn’t brought up its own version, it may have to quickly get their ducks in a row as the full House could vote on the full repeal as soon as June. Legislators are feeling the heat from Canada and Mexico as well as agricultural industries to find a fix that avoids retaliatory tariffs.
Three other major reauthorization bills needed before the end of September -- mandatory livestock reporting bill, Grains Standards Act and Commodity Futures Trading Commission -- have also quickly been advanced through the House Agriculture Committee well ahead of the deadlines. The full House could take up the CFTC bill in June also.
The Senate also followed the House’s recent action on advancing its own Grain Standards Act with unanimous approval during a business meeting May 21. They made some additional changes beyond the House’s version as well as reaffirmed the role of the federal inspection service. Welcomed by the agricultural industry were steps included in both that intend to prevent future disruptions in export inspection services like what occurred last summer at the Port of Vancouver.
The Senate bill also includes an important change to the flawed formula now used by USDA to set user fees charged to export elevators, which the National Grain and Feed Association and the North American Export Grain Association estimate will result in up to $12 million in overcharges during the current and immediately preceding fiscal years.
NGFA and NAEGA remain disappointed that neither the House or Senate version allows USDA utilize qualified inspectors employed by independent third-party entities to perform official inspections at export facilities. A recent study conducted for NAEGA found that between 20 and 25% of U.S. exports of bulk grains, oilseeds and major coproducts already are being re-inspected by these third-party entities in response to specific requests from foreign buyers.
House Agriculture Committee chairman Michael Conaway, R-Texas, said oversight of USDA will be a focus in coming months. He said there were 17 agencies that needed review and specifically called attention to the ongoing review of the food stamp program. The House Agriculture Committee subcommittee on nutrition held another hearing May 20 on the government’s nutrition programs, this time focusing on duplication and unmet needs within the program.
Senate Agriculture Committee chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., said he looked forward to the Grains Standards Act being the “first of many bipartisan bills that will pass through the Agriculture Committee this Congress.”
Both Roberts and his ranking member Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., recognize the need for bipartisanship and have proven to hold a strong commitment to carrying that forward. The end result should help bring workable legislation to the agricultural community.