The co-chairmen of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform released their recommendations of what steps need to be taken on the federal deficit and for debt reduction. They made recommendations on discretionary spending cuts, tax reform, health care savings, social security adequacy and solvency and mandatory spending cuts. The following recommendations were made for agriculture: “Reduce farm subsidies by $3 billion per year by reducing direct payments and other subsidies, Conservation Security Program funding and funding for the Market Access Program.” The report also recommends that user fees be charged to meat and poultry processing facilities to finance food safety and inspection services. The co-chairs’ recommendations will be considered by the full commission and presented to Congress in December.

Congress Returns for Lame Duck — Congress returned for the first time since the mid-term elections with a large agenda of unfinished business. The major items to be addressed will be expiring tax cuts and fiscal year 2011 appropriations. The Republicans are proposing that the Bush tax cuts be permanently extended. Other options being considered are: making the middle class tax cuts permanent and ending the tax cuts for those making over $250,000; making the middle class tax cuts permanent and extending the tax cuts for those making over $250,000 for a year or two; and extending all tax cuts for one or two years. The president and the Democratic and Republican congressional leadership will be meeting on Nov. 30 to determine if an agreement can be reached. If the administration and Congress do not reach an agreement by Dec. 31, tax rates will increase on Jan. 1. Also, Congress needs to deal with the fiscal year 2011 appropriation bills by Dec. 3 when the continuing resolution expires. Other issues that are being considered by Congress include the Food and Drug Administration’s food safety bill, child nutrition reauthorization, FAA reauthorization, extension of unemployment benefits and immigration.

Ag Groups Oppose Tester — Senator Jon Tester (D-MT) is proposing that small entities ($500,000 gross sales or less) be exempt from the requirements of the Food and Drug Administration’s food safety bill that is being considered by the Senate. A number of agricultural groups oppose Tester because they strongly believe his proposal would “reject a risk-based approach to food safety, setting up a federal food-safety system that adheres to arbitrary exemptions rather than sound, scientific principles.” In a letter to the Senate leadership the groups said, “We believe an operation’s size, the growing practices used, or its proximity to customers does not determine whether the food offered is safe.” Those signing the letter included: American Feed Industry Association, American Frozen Food Institute, American Meat Institute, Corn Refiners Association, National Council of Farmer Cooperatives, National Meat Association, National Pork Producers Council, National Turkey Federation and the U.S. Apple Association.

112th Congressional Leadership — The House and Senate Democratic and Republican caucuses selected their leadership teams for the 112th Congress. Senate: The Senate leadership remains the same with Senators Harry Reid (D-NV), majority leader; Dick Durbin (D-IL), majority whip; Mitch McConnell (R-KY), minority leader; and Jon Kyle (R-AZ), minority whip. House: The Republican caucus elected Congressman John Boehner (R-OH) as the new speaker; Congressmen Eric Cantor (R-VA) as majority leader; and Congressmen Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), majority whip. The House Democratic leadership will remain the same with Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) serving as minority leader and Steny Hoyer (D-MD) as minority whip. Pelosi faces a fractured caucus with a number of her members urging her to step down as leader.

Senate Agriculture Committee — Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) will be the new chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee. Stabenow was a member of the House Agriculture Committee when she served in the House of Representatives. Senator Kent Conrad (D-ND) will remain as chairman of the Senate Budget Committee. He had his choice of being chairman of the agriculture committee or budget committee.

P. Scott Shearer
Vice President
Bockorny Group
Washington, D.C.