Washington Insider-- Thursday

Beyond the Election Spotlight

Here’s a quick monitor of Washington farm and trade policy issues from DTN’s well-placed observer.

Republicans Lost Fewer Senate, House Seats than Polls Predicted

Republicans will hold at least 52 seats in the Senate next year, assuming that Republican John Kennedy wins the Louisiana runoff in December, as expected. Democrats needed to win a net of five seats (four had Hillary Clinton won the White House) to recapture the Senate majority they lost in 2014.

In the Senate, Republicans lost Illinois, where Democratic Rep. Tammy Duckworth defeated incumbent Sen. Mark Kirk. The New Hampshire race, where Gov. Maggie Hassan posed a stiff challenge to Republican incumbent Kelly Ayotte, remained too close to call well into the morning.

Two former Democratic senators, Evan Bayh in Indiana and Russ Feingold in Wisconsin, were defeated. Rep. Todd Young won in Indiana and incumbent Sen. Ron Johnson in Wisconsin was reelected.

Republicans likely will expand their grip on the Senate after the 2018 midterm elections when they have the mathematical and geographic advantage. The GOP will have eight seats to defend compared with 25 for Democrats, including the two Democrats who caucus with them.

Senate Democratic incumbents in red states, such as Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Joe Manchin of West Virginia, are up for reelection in 2018 and so are some swing-state senators such as Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Bill Nelson of Florida.


Agriculture, Food Policy Impacts of Trump and a GOP-Controlled Congress

Fewer new proposed regulations and eliminating many Obama-proposed regulations made via executive order or directives.

Significant modification, if not elimination, of the controversial Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) rule is likely either through White House action or via congressional legislation.

In the coming new farm bill debate, Republicans will head both of the agriculture panels and the bill will likely have some changes versus the one if Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., had returned as chairwoman of the Senate Ag Committee.

Food stamp reform is now more likely in a White House and Congress controlled by Republicans.

Cost-benefit analysis will now be the rule on new food industry regulations. While some proposed new food industry regulations will likely go forward, any rules deemed excessive will be thrown out.

No support for a Food Council at USDA as is being pushed by current USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack.


Washington Insider: Beyond the Election Spotlight

Well, the long hard campaign is ending with some big surprises and a major concentration of power in Republican leadership. This seems to be bad news for ag trade and at least an intensifying fight over regulations. These issues will be debated long and hard in the coming weeks. What many may not have yet noticed are the state and local ballot initiatives, including a couple in particular, Informa Economics reported yesterday.

First, in a local ballot initiative, the San Francisco sweetened beverage tax as a tool to target soda to stem obesity and diabetes “gathered speed,” according to Reuters.

San Francisco Bay Area neighbor Albany, California, passed a similar measure, preliminary election data show and measures in Oakland, California, and Boulder, Colorado, also appear to be winning, although votes still remain to be counted. At least some observers see this trend as “demonizing” ag and food products—an approach that could open the door widely to a broad set of advocate biases, with potential negative impacts across the industry.

In addition, two states, Indiana and Kansas, approved provisions to change state constitutions to codify a right to hunt, fish and harvest/trap wildlife.

And, in spite of the election’s strong Republican surge, several states considered and some passed gun regulations. These included a California measure that would outlaw possession of large-capacity ammunition magazines, require permits to buy ammunition and extend a program that allows firearms to be seized from “those no longer allowed to own them.”

Washington State also voted to allow judges to issue orders to temporarily seize guns from those deemed a threat. And Nevada approved background checks on nearly all gun sales and transfers. Maine voters also considered a provision on background checks, but that vote was “too close to call” when the Informa article went to press.

Several states considered new marijuana regulations, and California, Nevada and Massachusetts approved measures legalizing the recreational use of marijuana while Arizona defeated a similar proposal. Maine also considered such a rule change but that vote was too close to call, as well. Florida, Arkansas and North Dakota voted to allow pot for medical purposes. Montana voted to expand medical marijuana.

An addition, California approved a state-wide “sin tax” increase on retail tobacco, while Colorado, Missouri and North Dakota voters rejected such a proposal.

In addition, voters approved minimum wage boosts in Arizona, Colorado, Maine and Washington with gradual increases to be applied over time.

Finally, of particular interest to producers, Massachusetts voters agreed that farming methods that keep animals constrained should be prohibited. This would apply to devices such as veal crates for baby calves, gestation crates for sows and battery cages for egg-laying hens. The measure bars the sale of meat and eggs produced using those methods, even from animals raised outside the state. Farms and businesses will have until 2022 to comply.

So, while the general tone of the election seems to augur less government intervention and regulation, and possibly a more modest future role by EPA in agriculture, state and local initiatives appear to indicate at the same time that social policy advocates, especially those in areas of animal welfare appear to be able to develop support political support sufficient to intervene significantly in production agriculture, a trend that producers should watch closely as it proceeds, Washington Insider believes.


Want to keep up with events in Washington and elsewhere throughout the day? See DTN Top Stories, our frequently updated summary of news developments of interest to producers. You can find DTN Top Stories in DTN Ag News, which is on the Main Menu on classic DTN products and on the News and Analysis Menu of DTN’s Professional and Producer products. DTN Top Stories is also on the home page and news home page of online.dtn.com. Subscribers of MyDTN.com should check out the US Ag Policy, US Farm Bill and DTN Ag News sections on their News Homepage.

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(GH/CZ)