First-Class Flight

Fly-In participants prep for new year in Congress

Published in the January 2016 Issue Published online: Jan 06, 2016 John Keeling, Executive VP and CEO, National Potato Council
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In 2015, during the first session of the 114th Congress, potato growers made their voices heard by their senators and representatives both on Capitol Hill and in their home districts and states. These dedicated men and women took time away from their families and their work to provide input to federal agencies and members of Congress on the laws and regulations that impact their farming businesses.

Through letters, phone calls and personal contacts, potato growers worked hard to create the opportunity for success on key legislative issues including repealing the Waters of the U.S. rule (WOTUS), increasing truck weight limits, securing potato breeding research funding, establishing federal preemption for food labeling, repealing country of origin labeling (COOL) requirements for meat and poultry, and approving Trade Promotion Authority (TPA). The Founding Fathers created the House and Senate to be dramatically different bodies. The two bodies think and act differently, regardless of which party controls the power in each. Recently it has been difficult to get a piece of legislation on any subject through both chambers, into a conference committee and on to the president. The success rate of the key potato industry issues reflects this fact.

Of all the issues above, only the TPA bill made it to the president’s desk and was signed. In the cases of the WOTUS and COOL repeal efforts, the House supported both on a bipartisan basis, but the Senate did not approve similar measures. Both measures—like most bills that are in any way controversial—required 60 votes to make it through the Senate. The effort to establish the FDA as the preeminent food safety authority in the land and to establish a voluntary program for food labeling, including food with genetically modified ingredients, passed the House but was not taken up by the Senate. The Senate Appropriations Committee included language in the FY 2016 funding bill to continue and increase funding for the potato breeding research program to $2 million. No conference was held on the agriculture appropriations bill, forcing all funding bills for fiscal year 2016 to finally be lumped into a must-pass omnibus bill. At this writing in early December, it is unclear exactly what gets fixed in the omnibus bill Congress must pass by the end of 2015. The potato industry is committing all our resources to achieving success on as many of these outstanding issues as possible.

At this point, the only outright defeat on a critical bill was the failure of an amendment to increase allowable truck weights on federal highways to 92,000 pounds. The increase, which is supported by safety data from U.S. pilot programs, a recent Department of Transportation study, and the experience of most industrialized nations but is strongly opposed by the railroad industry, was defeated by 30 votes when offered as an amendment to the highway reauthorization bill. This fight is not over. It may take another five years before Congress reauthorizes the highway bill again, or there may be an earlier opportunity on some must-pass legislation. But the effort will not stop. Each legislative session provides the opportunity to address new issues and demonstrate the commitment to unfinished business. In order to succeed, you must have your priorities established, the support of committed Congressional members, and an active grassroots network.

Each year in February during the Potato D.C. Fly-In, potato industry supporters have the opportunity to educate members of the House and Senate on the industry’s legislative priorities. It is an exciting time in Washington for Potato D.C. Fly-In attendees.

Members of Congress, well-known political pundits, issue experts and other D.C. insiders will be on the podium to share their knowledge and political perspectives on the issues and on the upcoming political season, including the 2016 presidential election. The most significant part of the Potato D.C. Fly-In is members of Congress hearing from their constituents on matters that affect their district and state. Potato growers create jobs and are a vital part of many districts’ economies, so elected representatives are always attentive when listening to firsthand details regarding the latest local issues and concerns. Now that the second session of the 114th Congress is upon us, it is important to maintain the relationships made at last year’s Potato D.C. Fly-In to tackle important new issues and those issues that will undoubtedly be hanging around from last year.

This country presents extraordinary opportunities to engage with members of Congress and government officials that impact public policy. The Potato D.C. Fly-In is that opportunity to join with others in the industry and make your voice heard by sharing your story. The grassroots power of individual growers supply NPC the strength and continued focus we need to influence legislative policy. Make your plans today by visiting the Potato D.C. Fly-In registration page at www.nationalpotatocouncil.org.