This post was written by John Gordley in the ASA Washington office and will appear in the next issue of American Soybean Magazine.
Now that it’s 2018, it’s a good time to examine the landscape for federal policymaking in the coming year. We at the American Soybean Association are pleased to provide a look at Congress’ must-do measures, entitlement reform, and possible bipartisan legislation; as well as the barriers that could disrupt these efforts.
As of press time, Congress has passed a Continuing Resolution (CR) funding the government through January 19, at which point another CR or broader omnibus appropriations bill is needed. This will be harder, since Democrats want to address immigration issues while Republicans want tighter border security. Another issue is whether to add a tax extenders package, including retroactive approval of the biodiesel tax credit. However these are decided, a second CR in January is a good bet. Mid-March brings another deadline when the suspension of the federal debt ceiling expires. Expect this to be approved as well, despite considerable teeth-gnashing.
Reform of entitlement programs including Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security has long been a goal of House conservatives. However, Senate Republican leaders discount the likelihood of comprehensive changes in such sensitive programs in an election year.
President Trump focused on improvements to the nation’s infrastructure, particularly transportation projects, as a candidate and this may be an area for cooperation in 2018. Democrats traditionally support increased infrastructure funding, so the questions will be whether the two sides can agree on the amount, priorities, delivery, and offsets.
The current farm bill expires in September and there is broad agreement that the next version should include minor adjustments to existing programs rather than major policy changes. The House will likely modify the Price Loss Coverage (PLC) program, establish a new cotton program and strengthen the dairy Margin Protection Program. The Senate will likely fix the county Agricultural Risk Coverage (ARC) program to enhance the safety net. It is not clear how either committee will offset these costs within the spending baseline.
All involved in the farm bill contend with the uncertainty of what would happen in the event of a foreign policy or trade crisis. The consequences of a NAFTA withdrawal would be serious, since Canada and Mexico would likely seek other suppliers for soy and livestock products. Confrontation with China is another threat. The Department of Commerce is investigating whether China has endangered national security by selling steel and aluminum below cost. Also, the U.S. Trade Representative is reviewing whether Chinese companies have unfairly obtained intellectual property from U.S. companies. ASA has repeatedly communicated to the administration that we export 30 percent of our soy to China, and diversion of even part of that market to competing suppliers would destabilize our prices and exports for years to come.
Given partisan gridlock on other issues, some say the farm bill may be the only bipartisan legislation that can pass this year. However, opponents of the farm program continue to sharpen their attacks. It will take bipartisan cooperation to achieve results before midterm politics take over this summer.