Yes, there is a government shutdown. Yes, some of USDA’s biggest reports of the year have been delayed. Yes, there is some uncertainty about the Market Facilitation Program (trade aid) payments. But hopefully all of this will be resolved soon, and will be a footnote in USDA history.
Looming much larger on Capitol Hill are the plans being made by the Democratically-controlled House Agriculture Committee for implementing the Farm Bill and how the USDA will run its business. Those plans began to leak out late last week as the new Congress began to organize.
Chairing the committee will be Collin Peterson (D-MN), who has been the ranking Democrat for the past eight years, but was chairman for four years prior to that. Peterson knows the ropes, and issued a gentlemanly message of appreciation to being selected to serve again as chairman.
He said, “There is a new farm bill to implement, a growing economic storm in farm country to address, and the ongoing harm of a trade war to alleviate, not to mention the range of unforeseen issues that will test the mettle of the people we’re here to serve. Our job will be to work together with Republicans to provide responsible oversight of the administration, and pragmatic solutions for all points in the farm and food supply chain. I look forward to the challenge and I’m excited to get to work.”
Behind the scenes, Peterson and his subcommittee chairs could make life difficult for USDA leadership and others in the Trump administration who intersect with farm and food policy. Peterson told POLITICO that Marcia Fudge (D-OH) will chair the nutrition, oversight and department operations subcommittee. She will not be friendly to USDA’s announced plans to change the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
The House Republican version of the Farm Bill and SNAP focused on removing a significant number of low income food stamp recipients by requiring minimum work and job training hours. Since that would not pass muster in the Senate, the proposal died. But the day the Farm Bill was signed into law, USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue said he would administratively implement the goals of the House Republicans.
With a “We’ll see about that,” type of attitude, the African-American Congresswoman from the inner city of Cleveland probably already has her questions ready for the Secretary, wanting to know why he would bypass the will of Congress in revising the SNAP program. He would be well-served by touring Cleveland with the Congresswoman and visiting with her constituents to find a practical compromise that will benefit SNAP recipients.
Farmers can look forward to the new House Agriculture Committee’s support of the Renewable Fuels Standard (a Peterson pet program) and questioning the EPA’s decision-making on how it manages the ethanol and biofuels programs that have angered corn farmers and the ethanol industry.
Buckle your seatbelt and enjoy the fireworks.