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Simpson says ag faces challenges on Capitol Hill

Carol Ryan Dumas

Capital Press

Rep. Mike Simpson tells Idaho's dairy industry the biggest challenge facing Congress at present is passing appropriations bills to fund government.

SUN VALLEY, Idaho — Reporting on the state of affairs in Washington, D.C., to dairy processors and milk producers attending the Idaho Milk Processors annual convention on Thursday in Sun Valley, Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, said the list of accomplishments by the sitting Congress is slim due to the growing divide between Democrats and Republicans.

But the problem is not only that Congress is split, making it harder to get things done, but the American public is also split. Congress just represents its constituents, he said.

“We have to get back to working across party lines,” he said.

The most pressing issue at hand is congressional inability to get appropriations bills passed. Those 12 bills fund the government, and passing legislation to fund the government is the No. 1 constitutional responsibility of Congress, he said.

The House has passed seven of the 12 appropriations bills, and the other five — including the ag appropriations bill — have been marked up but haven’t made it to the floor.

“Leadership is trying to work through the issues to get an ag appropriations bill passed,” he said.

Things aren’t going as well in the other chamber of Congress. So far, the Senate has passed zero appropriations bills, with most getting no further than mark up by committee chairmen, he said.

“The Senate, for lack of a better term, is dysfunctional right now,” Simpson said.

With Republicans in the minority in Washington, D.C. and so many divisive issues, the only way for Republicans to get what they want passed is to attach desired legislation as riders to “must pass” bills — appropriation bills, he said.

Those issues include funding for wildfire suppression, wolf delisting under the Endangered Species Act, preventing EPA from redefining navigable waters of the U.S., increasing truck weights on interstates, and inclusion of fresh potatoes in the Women, Infants and Children nutrition program, he said.

Resolving many of those issues will come through the appropriations process. But it could be a long process, given the lack of combined progress, he said.

“When we get back in September, we’ll probably do a continuing resolutions bill,” he said.

A continuing resolution would continue to fund government once the current budget expires on Sept. 30.

That bill would run through December. If Republicans win the Senate in the November elections, Republicans would probably push another continuing resolution in the hopes of gaining some ground. If the Democrats maintain Senate majority, there’d be no point in putting things off, he said.

More importantly, he said, it’s important that Congress gets back to regular order, wherein it meets its deadlines to fund government through timely appropriations bills.

“Nineteen ninety-four was the last time Congress did its job and got it done on time,” he said.

Working under a continuing resolution is a huge disruption to government agencies, he said.

Other things also need to be done in Congress that probably won’t get done this year, including immigration reform and granting Trade Promotion Authority to the president to enter into trade agreements — both critical to agriculture — and reauthorizing the Export-Import Bank, which is critical to U.S. manufacturing and employment, he said.

Despite the challenges and setbacks, Simpson said, “ I actually think the future looks OK. We’ve been through tougher times.”

These are tough times, “but we can fix them and will fix them,” he said.



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