Crop insurance, trade, energy and preliminary discussions on the next farm bill top the list of agriculture issues newly elected U.S. Representative Randy Neugebauer, R-Texas, wants to address in the 109th Congress.
Neugebauer defeated long-time House Agriculture Committee member and ranking member Charlie Stenholm in a race made possible by the Texas legislature's redistricting plan. Prior to redistricting, Stenholm represented the 17th District and Neugebauer the 19th; both served on the House Agriculture Committee.
Neugebauer, now in the 19th District, plans to remain on that committee.
“I talked to Chairman Goodlatte just after the election and told him of my desire to remain on the ag committee,” Neugebauer said. “I'll look at other committee assignments as well, but it has always been my commitment to the people of the 19th District to represent them on the ag committee.”
He said the committee faces a busy session. “We have a lot on our plate. We'll work on beef shipments to Japan, Brazil's claim to the WTO against our cotton program, WTO negotiations and a new farm bill debate is around the corner.”
He said hearings across the country, similar to those congressman Larry Combest held before the last farm bill debate, are likely.
Neugebauer also plans to reintroduce a crop insurance bill. “I had good response last year but ran out of runway,” he said. “We even had positive response from the RMA (Risk Management Agency).”
A comprehensive energy policy also deserves attention, Neugebauer said, and is more likely to gain traction with a bigger Republican majority in both the Senate and the House of Representatives. “I'm encouraged, especially with the additional Senate seats, that we'll get it done.”
He said he and other ag state representatives likely will have to fight off attempts at applying more payment limitations on the nation's larger farmers. “As long as Senator (Charles) Grassley is around, we'll have to fight payment limits,” he said. “And when the farm bill talks begin, that's one of the areas we'll debate.”
He said limiting payments for larger, more efficient farmers smacks of false economy. “One of the factors in agriculture that allows farm families to survive is their ability to get larger and more efficient. Payment limits are contrary to that goal.”
He said eliminating trade barriers also will improve farm income potential. “If we can break down some of the trade barriers, maybe then we can begin to address some of our subsidy payments, but we can't afford a program that limits a farmer's upside potential. That's what every business strives to achieve. Farmers find an economy of scale as they increase in size.”
He said technology, in agriculture and other industries, provides America with its greatest production advantage. “A policy that inhibits an industry from being productive makes us into a consumer nation instead of a productive one. We don't want to be a consumer nation.
“We're already about 70 percent dependent on foreign oil. We can't afford to get to that point with food. It's a national security issue.”
Neugebauer said he wants to work for fairer trade with other nations. “I don't necessarily mean free trade, but fair trade. With a level playing field we can compete with anyone in the world. We need access to other markets as we allow access to ours.”
Neugebauer praised Stenholm for what he called “26 years of service and sacrifice for the people of the 17th District. He made a tremendous difference for Texas,” he said.
Neugebauer, now the lone member of the Texas delegation on the House Agriculture Committee, said he will encourage some of the state's freshmen congressmen to seek assignment to the ag committee.
“One good thing about the ag committee is that it is considerably less partisan than other assignments,” he said.
Neugebauer said the 109th Congress also will begin looking at reworking the tax codes and finding a way to trim the budget deficit.
“And we will continue to fight the war on terrorism and we will win it,” he added. “We have a lot to do.”