This is an edited version of a blog post by our partners at the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition. See the full post here.
With 435 House and 35 Senate races on the ballot last week, the 2018 midterms were closely watched across the nation – not least of all by advocates of sustainable agriculture. Before heading off to the campaign trail, Congress left two major ag agenda items dangling – the 2018 Farm Bill and the fiscal year (FY) 2019 appropriations bill – both of which will either need to be wrapped up in the lame duck session, or taken on by the 116th Congress when they take their seats next year. In this post, we analyze how the changes in Congress members and party power are likely to impact sustainable agriculture priorities in the coming years.
The biggest shift from last night’s elections is the change in party control of the House of Representatives, which changed from Republican to Democratic control for the first time since 2008. Though the “blue wave” was ultimately not as drastic as some had been predicted, the change in party control (as well as loss of some Republican Agriculture and Appropriations Committee members) will be significant.
The Senate remains under Republican control; in fact, Republicans have increased their majority in the Senate by at least three seats, with some Senate races still too close to call.
In fact, there are several races in both chambers that are still too close to call. The best predictions at the moment suggest that the House will flip from 235 Republicans and 193 Democrats (with 7 vacancies) in the 115th Congress, to 228 Democrats and 207 Republicans (reflecting 35 gains by Democrats) in the 116th. The Senate had 51 Republicans and 49 Democrats in the 115th Congress, and will be adding at least a few Republicans to the roster for the 116th.
The shifts in both the House and Senate indicate that the country is still deeply divided along urban-rural, geographic, and partisan lines. While we did see some rural House districts that had voted for President Trump in 2016 flip from red to blue, in the Senate several farm states that had been held by moderate Democrats flipped to Republican control. Given this, we can expect continued partisan battles on all issues, including agriculture, in the years ahead.
Farm Bill and the lame duck
Top of mind for most farmers and sustainable ag-advocates in the nation is the fate of our next farm bill; the 2014 Farm Bill officially expired on September 30 of this year, throwing “tiny but mighty” programs into limbo and threatening the ability of many others to continue supporting family farmers, researchers, and food-producing communities. The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) along with Pesticide Action Network (PAN), and many of our allies in the food and farm communities have advocated for Congress to pass a strong bill that invests in sustainable agriculture policies by the end of this year (during the lame duck session).
The leaders of the Farm Bill Conference Committee have repeatedly said that they wanted to strike a deal and pass a bill during the lame duck. Now that the House has flipped to Democratic control, the big question will be whether House Republicans will come to the table and negotiate a bipartisan bill. Agriculture Committee staff have been working hard to negotiate differences between the two bills throughout the congressional recess, however, the current, hyper-partisan version of the House-passed bill has routinely been denounced as irreconcilable with the bipartisan Senate bill.
While NSAC continues to urge this Congress to come back to town and finish their job of getting a strong, bipartisan farm bill passed before the end of the year, a deal still may be out of reach. If that is the case, then the job of finishing a new farm bill will be on the desks of the new Congress once members arrive in January of next year. If Congress is unable to finalize a farm bill this year, then NSAC would urge the new Democrat-controlled House to go back to the drawing board on their version of the next farm bill and follow the example set by the bipartisan Senate bill.
In either scenario, we are advocating for a final bill that: advances conservation activities and sustainable agriculture; stems consolidation and economic concentration in farm country; supports nutrition and food access programs; and provides much-needed resources for historically underserved farmers and ranchers, local and regional food systems, and rural development. Feeding our nation and supporting our family farmers should not be partisan issues.
Photo credit: NSAC. Kentucky Farmer Will Bowling with NSAC staff on Capitol Hill.