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POLICY WATCH

Reconciliation and Infrastructure Packages Face Uncertain Future

This week, following strong showings by Republican candidates in off year elections in Virginia and New Jersey, House and Senate Democrats changed strategy in their pursuit to pass President Biden’s Build Back Better Plan. The legislation, which will utilize a Senate procedure known as Reconciliation which allows for the passage of legislation with only a simple majority, looks to spend roughly $1.75 trillion on a number of social and climate programs. The bill is paid for with substantial tax increases on corporations and individuals with high incomes. At the same time, the tax increases Nebraska Farm Bureau strongly opposed that were originally proposed by the Biden administration, including the elimination of stepped-up basis, other capital gains exemptions, and a reduction in the current estate tax exemption, are not included at this time. While Democratic leaders had planned on working out a deal to pre-negotiate a bill that could pass both houses of Congress, it appears the House is poised to vote on a bill they know will pass their chamber and leave the Senate to further negotiate. As negotiations with more centrist senators including West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin and Arizona Senator Kyrsten Sinema stagnated, some of the biggest ticket items Democrats had promised in previous elections were removed from the legislation. From an agriculture standpoint, one piece of the bill that has not been threatened for removal has been $28 billion in conservation program funding. As of this writing, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has scheduled the House to debate and vote on the Build Back Better/reconciliation package sometime on Friday, Nov. 5. Further complicating matters, it was announced that a full Congressional Budget Office (CBO) score of the bill would not be available until around Thanksgiving. The announcement has led some more centrist Democratic House members to pause on whether they support moving forward with the legislation. Given the only eight seat majority currently enjoyed by the Democrats in the House, the path forward on any legislation is very narrow especially now as we approach the midterm elections next year.

As for the bipartisan infrastructure package, a bill Farm Bureau supports, its fate has been tied with the Build Back Better/reconciliation package for the past several months. Members of the Progressive Democratic Caucus had pushed back against any vote on the infrastructure bill without first voting on the Build Back Better/reconciliation package. Given that the vote has been scheduled on the Build Back Better/reconciliation package, it appears, members will vote on both bills sometime on Friday, Nov. 5. Again, this important piece of legislation provides more than $550 billion in new infrastructure spending over five years on Farm Bureau priorities including roads/bridges, broadband expansion, water projects, and ports/waterways. Outside of those priorities, the bill also includes needed regulatory relief for livestock and insect haulers from Hours of Service regulations. The bill provides an exemption from Hours of Service regulations for the aforementioned drivers within a 150 air-mile radius from their final destination. This provision was developed from legislation introduced from Nebraska Senator Deb Fischer. While we continue to be concerned by the bill’s overall price tag, Farm Bureau endorsed passage of the bill considering our long-term support for many of the projects funded in the bill. If passed by the House, the bill would move to President Biden’s desk for his signature. Nebraska Farm Bureau will continue to keep members updated as this messy and complex situation continues to unfold in Washington.

International Markets Vital to Farmers and Ranchers

Delays in the shipping industry have a direct impact to the bottom line of farmers and ranchers. As the nation’s economy continues to battle through economic turbulence and substantial supply chain disruptions due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the need for a sound trading relationship with the rest of the world remains vital. Trade remains vitally important to the economic future of Nebraska’s farm and ranch families, typically accounting for 30 percent of Nebraska’s total agricultural receipts. According to the latest statistics from the United States Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service, Nebraska exported agricultural commodities are worth $6.3 billion.

2021 USDA Farm Service Agency County Committee Elections

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) will begin mailing ballots this week for the Farm Service Agency (FSA) county and urban county committee elections to all eligible agricultural producers and private landowners across the country. To be counted, producers and landowners must return ballots to their local FSA county office or be postmarked by Dec. 6, 2021.

Producers must participate or cooperate in an FSA program to be eligible to vote in the county committee election. A cooperating producer is someone who has provided information about their farming or ranching operation but may not have applied or received FSA program benefits. Also, for county committee elections, producers who are not of legal voting age, but supervise and conduct the farming operations of an entire farm, are eligible to vote.

Elections are occurring in certain Local Administrative Areas (LAA) for these committee members who make important decisions about how federal farm programs are administered locally.  Each committee has from 3 to 11 elected members who serve three-year terms of office, and at least one seat representing an LAA is up for election each year. Newly elected committee members will take office Jan. 1, 2022.

Producers can find out if their LAA is up for election and if they are eligible to vote by contacting their local FSA county office. Eligible voters who do not receive a ballot in the mail can request one from their local FSA county office. To find your local USDA Service Center, visit farmers.gov/service-locator.

Visit fsa.usda.gov/elections for more information.

USDA Provides $1.8 Billion to Offset Market Fluctuations

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is in the process of issuing $1.8 billion in payments to agricultural producers who enrolled in the Agriculture Risk Coverage (ARC) and Price Loss Coverage (PLC) programs for the 2020 crop year.  These payments provide critical support to help mitigate fluctuations in either revenue or prices for certain crops. These two USDA safety-net programs help producers of certain crops build back better after facing the impacts of COVID-19 and other challenges.  

In addition, USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) is encouraging producers to contact their local USDA Service Centers to make or change elections and to enroll for 2022 ARC or PLC, providing future protections against market fluctuations. The election and enrollment period opened on Oct. 18, 2021 and runs through March 15, 2022. 

“As we build back better than we were before, we will continue to support our farmers, ranchers, and producers as they overcome the challenges associated with COVID-19, climate change, and other issues,” said FSA Administrator Zach Ducheneaux. “We also know producers prefer to get good prices for their crops in the marketplace, but these programs provide stability when markets are volatile, making a big difference in the lives of farm families across the country.” 

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