Mark Maslyn, AFBF Executive Director of Public Policy

112th Congress will bring new faces, changes to D.C.

There’s no question that the 112th Congress will bring new faces and changes to Washington. A few may be familiar with farm policy, but like the public-at-large, most of them won’t. Even the agriculture committees that will write the next farm bill won’t be immune to these changes. As with any new Congress, the American Farm Bureau Federation is looking forward to working with new members to help them better understand one of the nation’s most vital industries.

With the farm bill, we realize we are living in a different economic and political landscape as compared to when the 2008 farm bill was written. So, as the new agriculture committees settle in and begin work on this important legislation, Farm Bureau will work with committee members to help them understand the role of farm programs and develop a bill that provides an effective and responsive safety net for producers across the country.

Taxes are another priority issue for Farm Bureau. Unless the current Congress acts by Jan. 1, estate taxes will be reinstated with only a $1 million exemption and 55 percent top rate and the top capital gains tax rate will increase from 15 percent to 20 percent. On estate taxes, Farm Bureau is seeking a $5 million exemption and 35 percent rate that should be indexed for inflation with a “stepped-up” basis. Further, we are calling for a permanent 15 percent capital gains tax rate for all taxpayers.

As far as environmental issues, there are proposals before Congress that would fundamentally alter the Clean Water Act by deleting the word “navigable,” a term that serves as a limit on the reach of the federal government’s authority. These proposals would greatly expand federal water jurisdiction to include, in some cases, groundwater, ditches, farm and stock ponds and prior converted cropland. When Congress initially passed the Clean Water Act nearly 40 years ago, it chose the terms it used very carefully.  Such expansion greatly impacts the jurisdiction and ability of state and local governments to make local land-use decisions and address non-point sources of pollution.  The Clean Water Act is working and Farm Bureau will continue to oppose congressional proposals to expand it into inherently local land-use decision making.

On another regulatory matter, we support efforts in the lame duck session to block Environmental Protection Agency greenhouse gas regulations. These regulations, which will begin on January 2, will eventually affect the vast majority of the livestock industry and many farming operations, resulting in higher costs for farmers and ranchers.  Many leaders, including President Obama and EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, believe that the Clean Air Act is not the best way to regulate greenhouse gases.  We agree. 

On the trade front, we are hopeful that the new Congress will change the outlook of trade opportunities. We hope the new Congress will take a fresh approach to free trade agreements with Panama, Colombia and Korea, which have been pending in Congress for several years. This year alone, more than 600 bilateral and regional trade agreements will have been negotiated around the world. Sadly, the U.S. will have a share in less than 20 of these trade deals.

While President Obama called for doubling U.S. exports over the next five years in his State of the Union address, getting Congress to act is another matter. Agricultural trade is not only critical to our industry, but an aggressive trade agenda is important for the U.S. economy and the creation of American jobs. Passing these three free trade agreements will help toward our nation’s economic recovery.

All of these legislative issues are priorities for the American Farm Bureau Federation. We look forward to working with the 112th Congress on these and other important issues that affect the nation’s farmers and ranchers.

Mark Maslyn is the executive director of public policy at The American Farm Bureau Federation, which is the nation’s largest general agricultural organization, representing more than 6 million member families.