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Agriculture


The importance of agriculture to Wisconsin cannot be overstated.  The industry provides 11.9 percent of the state’s employment and generates nearly $90 billion to the economy annually.  In 2013, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) reported that more than 99 percent of the nearly 77,000 farms statewide are family-owned.  Further, Wisconsin has justifiably been nicknamed “America’s Dairyland,” as the second-largest producer of dairy in the country.  Milk, corn, fruits and vegetables, cattle, and soybeans are just a few of the products that come from the more than 15 million acres of farmland in Wisconsin. 

The 2018 Farm Bill

With the Agricultural Act of 2014, popularly known as the 2014 Farm Bill, set to expire at the end of Fiscal Year (FY) 2018, the House Agriculture Committee remains actively engaged in the process of seeking feedback, input, and insight prior to reauthorization.   As you know, the Farm Bill is an omnibus, multi-year law that governs an expansive array of agricultural and food programs encompassing soybeans, corn, wheat, cotton, rice, dairy, sugar, nutrition, conservation, horticulture, and even bioenergy.  Given the wide range of programs involved, an equally expansive range of parties is also involved in the dialogue that precedes the legislative process. 

In order to include the diverse array of interests and concerns, the Agriculture Committee has been hosting listening sessions to welcome input from relevant parties from across the country.  Within the last several months alone, various members of the Committee – including Chairman Mike Conaway and Ranking Member Collin Peterson – have traveled to Illinois, Minnesota, Florida, California, Texas, and New York for “Conversations in the Field” listening sessions.  During “Conversations in the Field,” members tour farms and fields, listen to agriculture leaders, and gage the thoughts and views of local farmers, both in general and with respect to the 2018 Farm Bill.  These listening sessions are as relevant as they are necessary, a sentiment echoed by Representative Roger Marshall of Kansas at one such session: “In order to write a strong farm bill, we need to know what’s important.”
To complement “Conversations in the Field,” on September 8, 2017, the Committee launched a new video series entitled, “Farm Bill Friday.”  Each Friday, the Committee releases a new video featuring a member of the House Conference highlighting the importance of a strong 2018 Farm Bill that will benefit all Americans.  Thus far, the Committee has heard from Representative Don Bacon of Nebraska, Representative Scott DesJarlais of Tennessee, and Representative Roger Marshall of Kansas.  And, Representative Marshall emphasized the importance of crop insurance in the 2018 Farm Bill, noting, “Crop insurance is vital.  It is the backbone of every Farm Bill, and allows the farmer to plant next year’s crop.” 

In March 2017, the Agriculture Committee convened to specifically discuss dairy policy in the 2018 Farm Bill.  While the entire agriculture industry has been experiencing low prices – leading to a 50 percent drop in net farm income over the past 4 years – the dairy industry has suffered particularly acutely, with milk prices falling from $24 per hundredweight in 2014 to $16 per hundredweight in 2016.  In his opening remarks, Chairman Conaway stated, “While we often say that the farm safety net is designed for times like these, the Margin Protection Program in the 2014 Farm Bill has provided virtually no assistance.  Underperformance of the Margin Protection Program has resulted in very few producers purchasing buy-up coverage levels in 2017, leaving producers even more exposed to market volatility.  While the industry is to be commended for making the fundamental shift away from price support to margin protection, that will only be sustainable with sufficient risk management going forward.” 

The Budget and FY 2018

Unlike an appropriations bill, a budget resolution is not submitted to the President to be signed in law.  A budget resolution is, however, the only legislation that views the federal government as a whole, and therefore has an indelibly important impact on the policy agenda in Congress.  As such, it serves to resolve any conflicting judgments about our national priorities, and it helps reconcile divergent views of our country's future.  Ultimately, a budget resolution is more than a list of numbers – it’s an expression of our governing philosophy. 

On October 5, 2017, the House passed H. Con. Res. 71, a concurrent budget resolution that establishes the Congressional budget for FY 2018 and sets forth appropriate budgetary levels for the FY 2019 – 2027 period, by a vote of 219 to 206.  H. Con. Res. 71 reflects our founding principles: freedom, free enterprise, and a government accountable to the people it serves.  It also unlocks reconciliation, an expedited legislative procedure that can only be triggered by the adoption of a concurrent budget resolution.

In unlocking reconciliation, this budget paved the way for historic tax reform, which President Trump signed into law on December 22, 2017.  Passing the budget will now help us bring more jobs, fairer taxes, and bigger paychecks for Americans across the country.  This budget is an opportunity to restore prosperity in this country, and usher in the kind of growth and economic well-being we haven’t seen in a decade.  Aside from being in our best economic interests, the tax reform legislation that was recently signed into law is clearly in our greater national interest as well.  Embedded in our nation’s DNA is the notion that the condition of your birth does not determine the outcome of your life; rather, the outcome of your life is affected and driven by your own sense of purpose.  The idea that hard work and playing by the rules can engender successes helped make America so exceptional, and Americans themselves so resilient.  A territorial system like the one was included in the recently-passed legislation will allow us to bring profits back home so they can be reinvested in our economy and our workforce, and deliver the kind of bold reform small businesses across the country so desperately need.  For more information on tax reform and what it will mean for you, I would encourage you to read additional details contained within the Tax Reform Issue Paper. 

For FY 2018, H. Con. Res. 71 lists the new budgetary authority for agriculture at slightly over $24 billion, and requires the House Agriculture Committee to submit changes to laws within its jurisdiction sufficient to reduce the deficit by $10 billion for the FY 2017 – 2018 period.  With respect to SNAP, the budget includes both a policy statement and policy recommendation.  The statement reiterates the House findings that the work support role of SNAP has declined, and that the program increasingly serves as a replacement to work.  The policy statement serves as the foundation for the budget’s recommendation: SNAP should be reformed to improve work requirements – akin to the changes made by the successful 1996 welfare reform law – in order to help more Americans escape poverty and move up the economic ladder.

Immigration

Our current immigration system is broken, and the evidence pointing to that is overwhelming.  Currently, there are 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States.  Because these immigrants are here undocumented, and consequently outside the scope of the law, we often do not know who they are or in what activities they are engaged.  In addition, there are immigrants who attempt to come to this country by legal means and find themselves wrapped up in endless paperwork and bureaucracy, and in turn, live in the United States unauthorized.  The result of these failures is a system that encourages people to break the law, and punishes those who follow it.  To be clear, as we work to fix this broken system, I do not support granting amnesty to illegal immigrants.  We need immigration reform that respects the rule of law, and is fair to those immigrants who have played by the rules.

With that in mind, I believe there are four principles that should guide immigration reform efforts.  First, we need to secure the border.  That should be our first priority.  We cannot have a safe and secure country without a safe and secure border.  Second, we need to enforce our laws so we do not repeat the same mistakes made in the past.  Third, we need to encourage legal immigration by implementing a guest-worker program that meets the needs of our economy and attracts the best and brightest to our shores.  And fourth, we need to give people a chance to get right with the law.  We should welcome anyone who is committed to America, but we must always uphold the rule of law—and be fair to those who followed it.

On this note, you may be interested in an update regarding H.R. 4092, the Agricultural Guestworker (AG) Act of 2017.  On October 2, 2017, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte unveiled the text of the AG Act of 2017, a bill to create a new, workable agricultural guestworker program for America’s ranchers and farmers that will replace the outdated and broken H-2A program.  According to the Judiciary Committee, the H-2A program is widely known to be expensive, time-consuming, and flawed.  The program forces employers to comply with a lengthy labor certification process that is plagued with red tape and often puts them at a competitive disadvantage in the marketplace.

To provide American farmers with access to a legal and stable supply of workers, the AG Act of 2017 would create a new H-2C guestworker program designed to meet the diverse needs of the agriculture industry by covering year-round employers like dairy farms, aquaculture operations, and food processors.  The bill was ordered to be reported to the House floor by the House Judiciary Committee on October 25, 2017.

Moving forward, we should consider these important issues in separate bills so the American people can see what we are doing and so Members of Congress will know exactly what they are voting on. 

Conclusion

Agriculture is a cornerstone of both Wisconsin’s culture and economy.  As I continue to work with my colleagues on the important issues facing the 115th Congress, I will ensure farmers are in a competitive international position, while making sure we get our economy and job creation growing again.

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