Cotton U speaker discusses farm bill expectations

Robbie Minnich, Washington D.C. operations lead for National Cotton Council, attended HPJ’s recent Cotton U event in Lubbock, Texas, and gave a farm bill update with his expectations based on past timelines and the current circumstances that could affect its progress.

“When you look at Congress, you’ve got very tight margins between parties,” Minnich said. “The Democrats control the Senate with 51-to-49 majority in the House. Republicans have a 5-seat majority in the House. Congress is out in August, and they took an Easter recess and there are several recesses coming up.”

Minnich said the legislative days are sporadic until fall, and although the committees will be working through the farm bill, time is limited for this calendar year. However, he was quick to say it is still possible for a farm bill to be completed this year. Minnich said he looked at every farm bill he was involved with over the 20 years from the time the draft was released to the time it was signed into law to review how long it has taken in the past. Most of them have taken about a year from the time the draft was released and it was signed.

“The last farm bill was the fastest farm bill in 20 years,” he said. “The draft was released in April of 2018, and it became law just before Christmas in December of 2018. At this point in the year, it’s April and we’re nowhere near having a draft released at this point. Everyone is going to push to get a bill done by Sept. 30, but it’s highly unlikely that a bill will be signed into law by then.”

Minnich said another thing to remember is that most farm bills are adopted on even numbered years, which are also election years. Since this year is in odd year, the process will start this year, but it is most likely to be adopted next year in 2024.

Who is on the roster?

The elected officials in Congress, their parties and their experience also play a large part in completing a farm bill.

“Looking at the House, there are over 200 new members there that weren’t here when we passed the 2018 bill,” Minnich explained. “Almost half the House wasn’t here for the fight of the 2018 bill, much less any of the previous farm bills. On the Senate side, a quarter of its members weren’t here for the 2018 farm bill or the previous bills. Drilling down further, there are also a lot of new members on the Ag Committee, that haven’t been involved with a farm bill before.”

Minnich said on the Republican side of the House, there are 11 members that are new to the ag committee, five are from cotton belt states—this also includes Congressman Frank Lucas, R-OK, who has previously been on the committee, but had to step away for other legislative responsibilities. He returned to help with the farm bill. On the Democratic side of the House, there are 13 new members, with three of them being from cotton belt states. On the Senate side, there are no new Republican members, but there are two new Democrats. Minnich noted the two new Senate Democrats were members of the House Agriculture Committee.

“I think that’s going to be beneficial as we go through this process, especially with Democrats controlling the Senate,” he said. “When we look back at previous farm bills, we really haven’t had any cotton representation on the Democratic side of the committee.”

Minnich then listed some key farm bill players for the House: GT Thompson, R-PA, chair of the House Ag Committee; Jodey Arrington, R-TX, chair of the House Budget Committee; Jason Smith, R-MO, chair of the House Ways and Means Committee; Tom Cole, R-OK, chair of the House Rules Committee; Kevin McCarthy, R-CA, Speaker of the House; Steve Scalise, R-LA, Majority Leader; Tom Emmer, R-MN, Majority Whip; and David Scott, D-GA, Ranking Member on the House Ag Committee.

“Hakeem Jefferies, D-NY, Minority Leader, is the unknown of the group,” Minnich explained. “We think he is going to be supportive of agriculture and ag policy, but he’s new, so we just don’t know. But the rest of these folks it really is an all-star cast. The stars would be aligned to get a farm bill done this year.”

On the Senate side, Minnich listed some other important members: Debbie Stabenow, D-MI, chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee; John Boozman, R-AR, Ranking Member of the Senate Agriculture Committee; Mitch McConnell, R-KY, Senate Minority Leader, and Chuck Schumer, D-NY, Senate Majority Leader.

“All of these Senate members have been supportive of agriculture and moving farm bills through, so we don’t really see any obstacles there. The obstacles in getting a farm bill done come down to timing and budget.”

Minnich stressed that the farm bill is a process, which requires several moving parts, such as input from producers and stakeholders as well as working within a budget.

“The process is going to continue, and that’s why we all as an industry need to be engaged and share our message with members of Congress,” he said. “Whether or not we get a farm bill signed into law this year, they’re going to write a farm bill this year. I fully believe that the House and Senate will begin work and start putting pen to paper.”

Lacey Vilhauer can be reached at 620-227-1871 or [email protected].

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