Following a productive two years on Capitol Hill, the 118th Congress was set to be sworn in shortly after noon on January 3. However, disagreement and dissent in Congress resulted in some initial delays.
The Senate started business right on time. However, the House had a lengthy holdup due to a drawn-out debate and election for Speaker, which took several days. After Republicans took control of the House in the 2022 Midterms, the GOP nominated Rep. Kevin McCarthy from Bakersfield, California, to serve as the 55th Speaker of the House. Rep. McCarthy had served as the minority leader of the House Republican Conference since 2019 while Democrats controlled the chamber.
Despite the support of most of his republic colleagues, McCarthy was unable to secure a true majority of representatives (218) on the first ballot. Since the House could not begin legislative business until a speaker was chosen, over a dozen more rounds of voting took place. After making major concessions to key holdouts with the Republican caucus, McCarthy was able to eventually secure the Speakership on the 15th round of voting in the early hours of January 7. This was the first multi-ballot speaker vote since 1923 and took the most rounds of voting since 1859. Shortly thereafter, representatives were officially sworn in to the 118th Congress.
Despite these delays, NFU remains committed to pursuing our standing legislative priorities and advancing our Fairness for Farmers campaign, with an eye turned towards the 2023 Farm Bill process.
117TH CONGRESS WRAP-UP: SOME FARMERS UNION PRIORITIES INCLUDED IN 2022 YEAR-END OMNIBUS
In late December, Congress finished up a busy term with one last piece of legislative business: passing the year-long omnibus spending bill.
The Omnibus includes a number of NFU priorities, including:
- $5 million increase for oversight and enforcement of the Packers and Stockyards Act.
- Full funding for the Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network (FRSAN) at $10 million.
- Strong funding for the Rural Cooperative Development Grants (RCDG) to support cooperative development centers and the Value-Added Producer Grant program.
- $364 million for the ReConnect Program, to fulfill its mission to address broadband and high-speed internet connectivity challenges in rural America.
- Nearly $950 million for conservation programs and conservation technical assistance; $14 million for the Grazing Lands Conservation Initiative (GLCI).
- A year-long extension of Livestock Mandatory Price Reporting.
The bill includes a continuation of recent disaster ad hoc disaster assistance, with $3.74 billion in relief for farmers and ranchers who suffered losses of revenue, quality, or production losses for a variety of crops and livestock incurred in the 2022 calendar year. Of that topline figure, up to $500 million is set aside for producers of livestock for losses incurred due to drought or wildlife. This funding is to be administered through USDA’s Emergency Relief Program (ERP), which is the current version of the original Wildfire and Hurricanes Indemnity Program (WHIP) and its successor, WHIP+.
The bill also includes modified versions of legislation aimed at addressing climate change in agriculture: the Growing Climate Solutions Act (GCSA), which NFU endorsed, and the SUSTAINS Act (see Division HH-Agriculture, sections 201 and 202, respectively in the bill text). GCSA, named the “Greenhouse Gas Technical Assistance Provider and Third-Party Verifier Program” in the bill, directs USDA to play a role in evaluating private carbon and other environmental credit markets for agriculture, with the goal of facilitating farmer participation in these markets, facilitating technical assistance to farmers for their participation, and ensuring farmers are fairly compensated in these markets. SUSTAINS, named the “Acceptance and Use of Private Funds for Public-Private Partnerships” in the bill, modifies existing CCC authority to accept and use contributions from private entities to fund conservation activities through USDA programs.
Additionally, the bill includes the Merger Filing Fee Modernization Act, to update the premerger filing fee structure, which has not been changed since 2001. The bill would increase filing fees for larger mergers and index increases in those fees to inflation.
However, two major NFU priorities were not included in the final package: the Cattle Price Discovery and Transparency Act and the Meat and Poultry Special Investigator Act. These bills had momentum – both were approved by the Senate Ag Committee and the special investigator bill was also passed by the House – but could not get across the finish line. The principles behind these bills could very well be part of the 2023 Farm Bill, particularly in a competition title. Congress also failed to enact meaningful farm labor reform, but NFU will continue to advocate for further efforts in the 118th Congress.
2023 FARM BILL PROCESS RAMPS UP
The above mentioned delays in the House of Representatives due to the election of a speaker had some real-world impacts, as the first Farm Bill Listening Session of the new year was postponed nearly one week. But on January 13, the new incoming chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, Rep. G.T. Thompson (R-PA) convened a listening session at the Pennsylvania Farm Show in Harrisburg.
About a dozen other members of Congress joined Chairman Thompson in hearing from leaders from a wide variety of stakeholder organizations in the Keystone State. Among those who offered their input was Pennsylvania Farmers Union (PFU) president Michael Kovach, who underscored the importance of building resiliency and competition into the food system through the farm bill. President Kovach also noted how soil health is key to success for family farmers in his state and should be prioritized.
PFU President Michael Kovach was among the leaders who were invited to speak at the Pennsylvania Farm Show in Harrisburg, PA, on January 13.
Further listening sessions and hearings are expected to be announced throughout the early parts of 2023, and NFU is working hard to prepare for these opportunities to provide input.
NFU HOSTS 2023 POLICY COMMITTEE
From January 9-12, NFU convened a meeting of the Policy Committee, kicking off NFU’s 2023 policy process. This was the first in-person Policy Committee meeting since 2020. Seven members from across the country, nominated by their respective state Farmers Union divisions, came to Washington, DC to begin crafting NFU’s official 2023 policy book. They also had the opportunity to hear from the House and Senate Agriculture Committees majority and minority staffs, as well as several officials from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The 2023 Policy Committee is chaired by Melany Thomas, representing Minnesota Farmers Union (MFU). Melany joined the MFU New Leader Academy in 2018 and received MFU’s “Rising Star” award at their state convention in November 2022. She served on the 2022 NFU Policy Committee.
The other members of this year’s Policy Committee are:
- Bryn Bird, Ohio Farmers Union
- Charles Hibner, Rocky Mountain Farmers Union
- Paul Neubauer, Montana Farmers Union
- Philip Neubauer, North Dakota Farmers Union
- Jordan Shearer, Oklahoma Farmers Union
- Hank Wonnenberg, South Dakota Farmers Union
The Policy Committee will reconvene in March at NFU’s 121st Anniversary Convention, in San Francisco, CA, and propose their recommendations to the full slate of delegates during the grassroots policy process.
From left: Bryn Bird, Ohio Farmers Union; Paul Neubauer, Montana Farmers Union; Charles Hibner, Rocky Mountain Farmers Union; Hank Wonnenberg, South Dakota Farmers Union; Jordan Shearer, Oklahoma Farmers Union; Philip Neubauer, North Dakota Farmers Union; and committee chair Melany Thomas, Minnesota Farmers Union.