What do farmers fear most, besides low prices and lousy weather? Regulations. Or should I say, burdensome, costly, stupid, pointless, let's-put-more-bureaucrats-on-the-government-payroll regulations.
That topic came up last week when I had a chance to interview Congresswoman Kristi Noem, R- S. Dakota. The Congresswoman had just finished grilling Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack at a House Agriculture Committee Hearing when we had a chance to talk about a wide range of issues including the farm bill, sequester and a bill she referred to as "REINS."
Turns out REINS stands for Regulations from the Executive In Need of Scrutiny Act, or H.R. 10. This bill was introduced and passed the House back in December 2011. It's unlikely to be taken up by the Democrat-controlled Senate, and President Obama has threatened veto if it gets to his desk.
Why, you may ask? This bill would increase congressional authority over the executive branch by making major regulations – rules that could cause $100 million or more in economic impact – subject to a vote in congress. And that would slow some of the arbitrary rulemaking attempts we see more and more of from places like the Department of Labor or Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
"By requiring a vote in Congress, the REINS Act would result in more carefully drafted and detailed legislation, an improved regulatory process, and a legislative branch that is truly accountable to the American people for the laws imposed upon them," reads the bill's descriptor.
The Democrat-controlled senate did not take it up for vote, but some members of the house intend to put it back to them this year – if for nothing else to get more public awareness, especially from parts of the country that have been silent, says Rep. Noem, whose family runs a ranch back in South Dakota.
"Look at what the Department of Labor tried to do last year - trying to say kids couldn’t work on the family farm anymore," she says. "If they had implemented that regulation, my kids could not have gone to work for my brothers because they would not be under my direct supervision. That's ridiculous."
"The agriculture way of life allows us to teach kids work ethic and values," Rep. Noem told me. "The fact that the Department of Labor would come forward with a regulation like that, well, we really got busy and stopped it. But I expect them to come back with it again."
Farmers recognize the value of good regulation. They know it's important to do things like putting berms around fertilizer tanks. But it seems like every time they do, EPA is knocking on the door again with something else. The next rule could put them out of business.
"We want regulations to make sense, and it seems like in the last few years they haven't always made sense," says Rep. Noem.
Elected officials don't hear from a lot of farmers and ranchers. So maybe it's time to get busy. When somebody takes their time to contact an elected official's office on Capitol Hill, it's amazing what happens.
"We need individual producers to get engaged," Noem concludes. "Our livelihood is on the line more than ever."