PLC provides update on happenings in Washington, D.C.
During the West Central States Wool Growers Association Convention, held Nov. 2-4 in Boise, Idaho, Public Lands Council (PLC) and National Cattlemen’s Beef Association Director Sigrid Johannes provided an update from Capitol Hill in regards to the agriculture industry.
Speaker of the House
To begin, Johannes discussed the election of Mike Johnson (R-LA) as the new Speaker of the House, noting it is hard to talk about Washington, D.C. without bringing it up.
“I am sure everybody is sick of hearing the word unprecedented because we have said it so much over the past couple of years, but this is truly an unprecedented situation,” Johannes stated.
“People joke there are only one or two people pulling the strings for the rest of the Senate, but we have the same sort of dynamic happening in the House, where we have eight members who succeeded in booting out Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), the former speaker, and interestingly enough, a lot of those eight come from Western states,” she explained.
Johannes noted these eight individuals “yield a disproportionate amount of power,” and after successfully firing McCarthy, they moved quickly through a list of replacements before landing on Johnson.
“Who is Mike Johnson? Great question,” said Johannes. “This has been the most frequently asked question in Washington, D.C. for the past week or so.”
She continued, “He is not somebody we know a lot about because he hasn’t been involved in a whole lot of legislation, which puts us is an interesting spot when trying to figure out where he is going to come down on agricultural issues like trade and the farm bill.”
Although Johnson expressed some disdain regarding the farm bill a few years ago, Johannes said he has since back tracked on some of his previous statements.
“It is going to be really interesting to see how he adapts,” she concluded.
Johannes noted when it comes to appropriations, things are a “big mess” on Capitol Hill, as the Nov. 17 deadline for a government shutdown is just around the corner.
“The government is a master in procrastination. They have kicked the can down the road to Nov. 17, and at this point, the temporary funding they approved in September will expire,” she shared. “So, we are still operating under a pretty tight window to get the 12 individual appropriations bills we need to fund the government agencies they need to fund.”
The most important of these bills for the agriculture industry, according to Johannes, are the bill that funds the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the bill that funds the Department of the Interior.
“We have made mixed progress on those this year,” she stated, further noting two versions of these bills have been brought forward, although the House and the Senate’s version differ wildly, swinging in “one direction or the other to the tune of tens of millions of dollars.”
Some of the things PLC is pushing for in those bills is funding for the U.S. Sheep Experiment Station, language on Big Horn sheep disease mitigation, language directing the use of grazing as a proactive form of wildlife management and funding for conservation and disease management programs, especially the National Animal Disease Preparedness Vaccine Bank and for wild horse and burro management.
Upcoming farm bill
As many know, a hot topic in Washington, D.C. is the upcoming farm bill.
“The 2018 Farm Bill lapsed at the end of September so we are in limbo where we don’t have an extension, we don’t have a 2023 Farm Bill and the House and Senate agriculture committees are very far apart in their drafts of what they think the new farm bill should look like,” shared Johannes.
Johannes also noted 80 percent of the farm bill goes to nutritional programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, while the other 20 percent goes to agricultural producers.
“As a representative of agricultural producers, we don’t wade into the nutrition program fight. It isn’t our lane,” Johannes said. “But, we are pushing pretty aggressively for them to figure out what they need to get figured out, because in the meantime, while they are messing around, producers are waiting for legislation on a variety of programs that they rely on.”
For now, Johannes said PLC hopes there will be a farm bill extension this month, with a new farm bill making a debut sometime in 2024.
“Outside of Congress, things are just as ridiculous as they are in Washington, D.C. right now,” said Johannes. “We have seen a huge number of rulemakings this year from federal agencies which impact sheep producers and the agriculture industry at large.”
The first of these is the BLM’s controversial conservation rule, which has caused a wave of concern throughout the industry.
“The first obvious problem we have with this is it doesn’t follow the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976,” shared Johannes. “Beyond this, the system for conservation leasing opens up a lot of troubling questions.”
In partnership with ASI, various state wool growers associations and individuals producers from across the country, PLC was able to make a strong showing during the comment period on the rule.
“Now, the BLM literally has hundreds of thousands of comments they have to comb through so the ball is back in their court for now, and we are going to have to wait and see what happens,” she concluded.
Additionally, Johannes shared PLC has been heavily involved in the reintroduction of grizzly bears in the state of Washington, pushing for the delisting of the gray wolf and continuing to keep Greater sage grouse off of the Endangered Species Act.
Hannah Bugas is the managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.