Likelihood of the next U.S. Congress making a mad dash to renegotiate the farm bill passed last summer is remote, but that doesn't mean agricultural interests can afford to let their guard down says Representative Mike Conaway, R-Texas.
Conaway, speaking at the annual Texas Commodity Symposium recently in Amarillo, said renegotiating the farm bill “ought to be way down the list. But there might be opportunities to fine tune. We don't expect the Obama administration to make a big deal of agriculture for the next two or three years.”
Conaway said during the 2008 presidential campaign, “we did not hear much about ag policy.”
He does foresee some changes in trade policy. “I expect relations with Cuba to be relaxed,” he said. “But I don't expect NAFTA to be renegotiated.”
Former Chairman of the House Agriculture Committee Larry Combest said environmental issues may bear watching with Democrats in charge of the Senate, the House and the White House. He said a “pent-up demand from the more radical environmental groups may result in a harder push. That's one of the biggest potential threats we see to current clean air and water regulations.”
He said the “hard left element of the environmental movement sees an opportunity to move America more left on environmental issues. But the debates have ignored the cost impact on American families and businesses. A transition period away from crude oil, for instance, comes with a cost. No conversation in the last two years has taken that into account.”
Combest said agriculture includes “the best stewards in the world. They take care of land, water and air and do what they can afford to do to protect those resources.”
Conaway said China and India coal use will “dwarf anything the United States does to reduce coal use.”
He said the Renewable fuel Standards should “be relaxed and delayed. But I don't expect relaxed standards would make it through Congress.”
Conaway said he had been impressed with some of President-elect Barack Obama's early suggestions. He said his job in the opposition party is to “work with him to make policies as good as we can. I'll be the loyal opposition and not just say no but offer better ideas.
“Neither Obama nor congress has any magic arrows in the quiver,” to get the country out of the recession, Conaway said. “But I have great confidence that we can do it. And we will be better for having gone through this. We will be leaner. But I don't have a great deal of confidence in the federal government to lead. So far, they have offered no federal hiring freeze and no significant congressional budget cuts.”
He said no one has had “the backbone to either raise taxes or cut spending. We did this to ourselves and there is plenty of blame for Republicans and Democrats.”
He said renegotiating the Social Security program will be necessary. “The sooner it's done, the less draconian solution will be necessary. But someone will get less.”
He said a Chapter 11 option would be better than a bailout for the auto industry.”They will emerge much stronger.”
Conaway said Texas has avoided most of the worst of the recession. “We've been protected somewhat by the oil business, but with oil under $50 a barrel, down dramatically from the third quarter, the industry will begin to see a slowdown and lost jobs. It's good for users with gas and diesel prices down.”
Conaway said the country has “no easy, painless solutions. We are in hard times and face more on the horizon.”