A Look at the Ins & Outs of Washington in 2021
By Brooke Appleton, NCGA Vice President for Public Policy
This has been an incredibly busy year in the nation’s capital. We swore in a new president, welcomed new cabinet members and worked with policymakers, both old and new, as they’ve considered some of the biggest legislation since the late 1960s.
Since there has been a political sea change over the last year, my staff and I have compiled the following list of what’s “In” and what’s “Out” in Washington in 2021. We hope you find this list informative.
Fighting Monopolies. Farmers have been struggling to secure and pay for exorbitantly expensive inputs, including seed, crop protection and fertilizer. This problem was exacerbated in March when the International Trade Commission, acting on a petition by Mosaic Co., placed tariffs on phosphorous fertilizers imported from Morocco and Russia. To make matters worse, the U.S. Department of Commerce recently ruled in favor of a petition by CF Industries and recommended imposing tariffs on nitrogen fertilizers from Russia and Trinidad & Tobago. NCGA has been making the argument in an amicus brief and in the halls of Congress that the U.S. government doesn’t have any business helping these companies monopolize the fertilizer market. We won’t stop raising this issue until appropriate action is taken.
The Legislative Filibuster. This fixture of the U.S. Senate, the rule requiring 60 votes on cloture to end legislative debates, has taken a beating over the years. The filibuster for the executive branch and judicial nominees was eliminated in 2013, and for Supreme Court nominees in 2017. Since regaining the Senate majority in 2021, some Democrats have pushed to end it altogether. Fortunately, that hasn’t happened. The filibuster is important because it encourages measured discussion and makes it harder for senators to change laws on a whim when one party controls Congress and the White House. Long live the filibuster!
Spending. Congress has debated two bills this year that would allocate trillions of dollars to infrastructure projects, social spending and climate initiatives. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Act, which enjoyed bipartisan support, is now law. The Build Back Better plan has passed the House of Representatives and is now being considered by the Senate. Thanks to our congressional allies, billions of dollars in funding are allocated to priority areas for farmers, such as the inland waterways system, rural broadband, biofuels infrastructure and the American Rescue Plan, which focused on economic recovery from the impacts of COVID-19. Love it or hate it, spending is the topic du jour in Washington.
Advocacy. Corn growers have taken time out of their busy schedules to travel to Washington, join Zoom calls and write letters and emails to weigh in with their congressional representatives on some of the most pressing legislation in decades. As a result, we have been successful to date in keeping harmful tax proposals from becoming a reality. We will continue to use advocacy efforts to go on the offense to provide opportunities to advance biofuels. It is vital that lawmakers continue to hear how their decisions are impacting your day-to-day operations. To make your voice heard, visit www.ncga.com/takeaction.
The Federal Budget. It’s another year and Congress has yet again missed its annual appropriations deadline. The last time Congress passed all 12 appropriations bills by Oct. 1, the start of the new fiscal year, was in 1996. Instead, Congress has made a practice of funding the government through continuing resolutions, which are stop gaps that maintain government funding at the previous year’s levels. This method of kicking the can down the road creates economic uncertainty. So, every year, we are brought to the precipice of a government shutdown, which is incredibly burdensome on government officials, including those at USDA, who can become distracted from serving farmers. This is no way to do business. We hope Congress will return to passing thoughtful and reasonable funding bills on time.
Tax Increases on Farmers. We have been concerned all year with proposals to change estate taxes and remove stepped-up basis to fund some of Congress’ spending priorities. Thanks to outreach from growers, associations and broad coalitions, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Act has designated funding sources, and, so far, tax changes that would be used to pay for Build Back Better don’t impact farmers disproportionately. But we’re keeping a watchful eye as the bill is considered in the Senate.
Safe Margins. We always knew that votes would be tight with a 50/50 Senate and a five-vote margin in the House. But we didn’t know just how dramatic it could really get. Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin (W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.), along with a handful of House members, have demonstrated that they can at times place independent thinking above party loyalty. The jobs of Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to herd cats are not enviable to many in Washington. We look forward to seeing how these two senators continue to shape the Build Back Better legislation.
While the changes this year have been prevalent, they’re hardly revolutionary. Washington is paradoxically a place steeped in tradition that attracts change-makers. Nothing sums up this town like the old saying – the more things change, the more they stay the same.
Appleton is the vice president for public policy at the National Corn Growers Association.