Gains for Farmers
By Bob Ellison
When the gavel came down to start the 104th Congress, many in agriculture saw an opportunity to advance issues that had long been stifled. They saw chances to lighten regulatory and financial burdens and give farmers more freedom in planting decisions. But as the second session of this Congress begins, there is still no Farm Bill and hoped for tax and regulatory reforms languish in deadlocked budget negotiations.
Does this mean this Congress has been a bust for agriculture? Not necessarily, says American Farm Bureau Federation Executive Director Richard Newpher, who adds there were significant legislative successes for farmers in 1995, such as estate and capital gains tax reform, increased expensing of farm costs and health care deductions for small businesses and farmers. Of course, these measures are bogged down in the stalemate between Congress and the President, but Newpher says it is a good sign that they have made it this far. While not signed, sealed and delivered, they are at least more realistic possibilities than they ve ever been before, Newpher says.
Additionally, Newpher says 1996 holds a great deal of promise. He is optimistic that issues like private property rights, endangered species legislation and Delaney Clause changes will make progress this year. While we might not get them all, I think we will see some of them become law, Newpher says, who also sees further gains on fiscal issues like a balanced budget amendment and additional tax reform.
But the most significant changes created by this Congress may not be legislative but philosophical. The fact that the discussion with regard to a balanced budget is considered realistic by most of Congress signifies some success, Newpher says. He says farmers should be cheered that Congress is giving serious consideration to many issues important to agriculture. For too long, Newpher says, Farm Bureau was the lone voice in the wilderness on issues ranging from the Clean Water Act to private property rights. But now these issues are what Newpher calls front and center in policy debates.
When the 104th Congress came to town, many advocates probably thought there would be swift enactment of its agenda as opponents relented before what seemed to be an obvious mandate. But that is not the way our democracy works. Legislative change can move at what seems to be a glacial pace. But what has occurred is a change in the focus of debate from not how much money to spend but how much less money to spend, from new rules and regulations to whether existing rules and regulations are really needed, and from new restrictions on land use to how much the government should pay for inconveniencing landowners.
As AFBF s Newpher says, this is a monumental step on behalf of the farmers of America.
Bob Ellison is Assistant Director of Information/Broadcast Services for the American Farm Bureau Federation's Washington, D.C. Office.