Delays, tighter budgets expected as new session begins
By MATTHEW WEAVER
AIRWAY HEIGHTS, Wash. -- Work on a new farm bill likely won't begin in earnest until 2012, a Washington insider says.
Instead, Rebecca Blue, confidential assistant with the USDA's Office of Congressional Relations, predicted support for trade and an emphasis on reining in spending will be at the top of the agenda when the new Congress convenes in January.
Former House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson, D-Minn., was keen to work on a new farm bill in 2011, Blue said. But Rep. Frank Lucas, D-Okla., the likely new chairman, said he will not begin work on the bill until 2012.
Blue said Lucas also recently made comments about intending to look at every penny being spent.
"It does look like we're going to have a little bit of a longer delay," she said.
The House Agriculture Committee lost 15 Democratic members in the November election. One Republican who left the committee was elected to the Senate. New committee members will likely be assigned toward the end of January, she said.
In the Senate Agriculture Committee, Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., will take over as chair.
Seven members of the Senate committee will be up for re-election in 2012.
"We need to consider what it's like to work on a farm bill in an election year," Blue said. "The last farm bill was tough."
President Barack Obama is aware of the importance of free-trade agreements, Blue said. Labor issues are still being worked out for the Colombian Free Trade Agreement, she said.
Obama's meeting in South Korea on free trade agreements were not as successful as hoped, but efforts will continue, she said.
But there are also bright spots for agriculture, Blue said. Net cash income is expected to rise by 23 percent from 2009.
U.S. agriculture exports for the 2011 fiscal year are forecast to be at the second highest level ever, at $113 billion, Blue said. That's $4.5 billion more than during the 2010 fiscal year.
The Office of Congressional Relations serves as USDA's liaison to members of Congress and their staffs.