Members of both Chambers of Congress headed home this past week for a four-week August recess, leaving behind a raft of priorities to be addressed when they return after Labor Day.
First and foremost is the appropriations process. The federal government’s fiscal year ends Sept. 30, after which new appropriations bills or a continuing resolution will be needed to fund federal programs.
At this point, the House has passed a budget resolution – albeit one that is unacceptable to the Senate – and six of 12 appropriations bills, including the agriculture measure. The Senate has yet to pass a budget resolution to initiate the appropriations process.
The process going forward and the final product could heavily depend on this week’s debt ceiling deal, which outlines cuts to FY2012 discretionary programs. The specifics of those cuts are as-of-yet unclear, as are the implications of the soon-to-come super committee negotiations.
Of equal importance to the wheat industry and other agricultural groups, Congress also did not act on three pending free trade agreements, with Colombia, Panama and South Korea, before leaving town.
Though there is widespread support for finalizing the deals – which were inked up to four years ago – the Administration and some in Congress itself have tussled over whether or not trade adjustment assistance (TAA), which provides aid for workers affected by new trade deals, should be passed along with the agreements.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said this week he and his Republican counterpart, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), have agreed on a path forward for both TAA and the agreements after the August recess.
While such a compromise would be very positive, the continued delay in passing these agreements is rapidly eroding market share for U.S. wheat growers and others who sell to the countries with which agreements are pending.
In mid-August, an FTA between Colombia and Canada will go into effect, at which time the U.S. will be Colombia’s only major source of wheat without duty-free access to the market. U.S. Wheat Associates, the industry’s market development organization, estimates this will cause U.S. market share there to plummet an additional 50 percent and will ultimately cost U.S. wheat growers $100 million in sales per year.
Another key priority that remains pending is H.R. 872, a bill that would eliminate a coming bureaucratic boondoggle when a court ruling goes into effect requiring additional permitting for each pesticide application, even if done in compliance with existing law.
That problem was created by a January 2009 Sixth Circuit Court decision saying pesticide discharge is a point source of pollution subject to additional regulation under the Clean Water Act, necessitating National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits for pesticide applications.
The decision has been stayed twice to allow time for government agencies to implement it. When the latest stay expires at the end of October, farmers will begin to face potentially catastrophic financial liability from otherwise lawful and routine applications of crop protection products.
H.R. 872, will amend the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) and the Clean Water Act to clarify Congressional intent and eliminate the requirement for the additional permits for pesticide applications approved for use under FIFRA. The legislation has been passed by the full House and the Senate Agriculture Committee with bipartisan support but is now facing a hold in the Senate.
NAWG will continue to work on these three priorities, and others, as the recess proceeds, and encourages wheat growers throughout the country to discuss each of them with their Members of Congress during in-district meetings scheduled this month.