IF I characterized 2013 as anything, I'd say anticlimactic but with lots of "hope" for 2014. This year brought plenty of hype but not much meaningful change, instead merely kicking the can further down the road.
Just as 2012 ended with anticipation for completing a farm bill, in the end, Congress threw a last-minute, one-year extension into the tax package on New Year's Eve.
Much of the same could be said this year with the buildup, although as the ball drops in New York City, I'm certain I won't have to write up anything about Congress passing a farm bill.
This summer, it seemed as though the stars had finally aligned and that the House would shepherd a farm bill to passage. That was until the far right alienated the far left and hung those in the middle out to dry.
Instead of working together, House Republicans split up the farm bill and allowed it to exit the House on a party line vote, further adding partisanship to what has typically been a non-partisan issue.
The only hope for farm bill passage in the divided chambers will be to draw toward the middle. Reports point to that being the case. Hopefully, by the end of January, we'll know if the old ways — a.k.a. reaching a compromise that might not please everyone — can prevail.
Another big-ticket item that had all the makings of moving this year was immigration reform. In June, the Senate passed a bipartisan bill that had the support of 14 Republicans as well as the agriculture community.
However, the more conservative House was unwilling to pick up where the Senate left off and did not even bring any significant piece of immigration legislation to the floor for a vote. The House's piecemeal approach seems less about taking it slow and more like stalling.
The House came together in an overwhelmingly strong vote of 417-3 to pass the blueprint for inland waterway funding. In May, the Senate passed its version by a vote of 83-14. Even with the strong bipartisan support, however, legislators have yet to bring a completed conference report back to the chamber floors for a final vote.
Beyond the confines of Congress, trade negotiators have been working on significant trade deals. Most notably, many had anticipated that the Trans-Pacific Partnership would be completed by year-end. That deadline obviously will be missed, but the end is nearing. However, recent concerns from agricultural groups over Japan's potential desire to protect its domestic agriculture industry threaten to upset support for the deal.
An initial legislative battle over U.S. trade policy is expected early next year, when Congress will be asked to grant President Barack Obama the same "fast track" authority that allowed his predecessors to negotiate trade treaties and receive a quick up or down vote in Congress.
However, many fear that Democrats will abuse the power provided under trade promotion authority by pushing a liberal policy agenda, leaving Republicans to face the choice of defeating free trade deals or accepting policies they otherwise would never vote in favor of under normal circumstances.
Agriculture will have to keep the pressure on Congress in 2014 to find a solution to these pressing topics. Otherwise, legislators won't be willing to use the political capital needed to advance change, especially in an election year.