What midterm elections might mean for farm bill, agriculture

Slow vote tallying and a surprisingly lackluster showing by Republicans left uncertainty in the days following the midterm elections.

While we now know Republicans will control of the House, the margin they will do so won’t be as large as many preelection polls showed. Preelection polls also suggested Republicans might grab control of the Senate, but that isn’t going to happen after tight wins by Democrats in Pennsylvania and Nevada. A Georgia runoff election next month is largely moot since Democrats have Vice Presidents Kamala Harris’ tiebreaking vote in their back pocket.

What do political insiders think the midterms results – or at least what we know so far – mean for the potato industry and agriculture, in general? On Thursday, Nov. 10 – two days after the elections – National Potato Council (NPC) CEO Kam Quarles was joined by Tyson Redpath and Jessica Schulken of the Washington, D.C.-based Russell Group, a longtime lobbying partner of the NPC, to discuss that question.

Election results (or lack thereof)

Redpath said the number of uncalled House races remaining two days after the election is beyond anything he’s ever seen before. While trends in mail-in and absentee voting delay tallying, Redpath and Schulken both feel the closeness of so many races will affect the way many people in Congress approach their jobs over the next two years.

“This might drive everyone more toward the middle,” Schulken said. “The ones who barely survived know they’re going to have another tough election in two years, and the Biden administration knows it will, too.”

Farm Bill 2023

Said Quarles: “Farm Bills have lived and died with Blue Dog (moderate) Democrats in the past, such as (former House ag committee chairman) Collin Peterson, who is no longer in Congress.” What happens now?

Schulken said the number of traditional “Blue Dog” Democrats isn’t what it once was, but several are on the House ag committee, citing Abigail Spanberger (of Virginia), David Scott (of Georgia) and Jim Costa (of California). Schulken said neither party having a significant majority in either chamber will likely increase the change of bipartisanship, adding that the same goes in the Senate ag committee, where leaders Debbie Stabenow (D-Michigan) and John Boozman (R-Arkansas) have shown willingness to work together in the past.

Ag labor reform

The panel wasn’t as optimistic on anything of significance being done on ag labor reform over the next two years. With ag labor reform so closely linked to immigration reform in the past, Redpath said the number of Latino voters who voted Republican, which was at an all-time high in Florida, for example, could make both parties apprehensive about tackling that issue right away.

“When you have unusual results, party leadership is often unwilling to do anything proactive,” Redpath said. “I wish I could say, yes, this is the moment for immigration reform.”

Redpath added the those lobbying for ag labor reform might be regulated to playing “small ball” by seeking minor victories where they can get them over the next two years.

Proposed SEC climate disclosure rule

Regarding the Security and Exchange Commission’s proposed rule that would require publicly traded companies to release climate-related data, which could lead to increased record-keeping for farmers and other food producers, the panel was wary of saying ultra-close midterm election results could have a significant effect on the push for such regulations.

“I do not want to leave this audience with the impression that congressional shifts will be able to do much to stop those regulations,” Redpath said. “The Biden administration controls that agency and will for the next two years, but perhaps we might see a little more bipartisanship.”

An “Eye on Potatoes” podcast recap of the webinar can be found here. Or search “Eye on Potatoes” on whatever platform you use for podcasts.

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