Policy outlook checkup

Policy outlook checkup

IN November 2014, I wrote a preview of what was on the policy horizon for 2015 and highlighted trade, waters of the U.S., taxes, immigration and reauthorizations as top-of-mind agricultural policy issues for the year.

Here's a snapshot of where we are halfway through 2015 and what's projected going forward:

* Trade. Last November, when Republicans regained control of the Senate and President Barack Obama wanted to embrace trade, it seemed to be the one area of bipartisanship that could prevail in Washington.

That goal was finally realized in recent weeks with the passage of trade promotion authority (TPA) despite attempts by both Democrats and Republicans to derail the negotiating authority for the President.

With TPA passed, the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement could enter its final stages yet this year. Once negotiations are done, Congress and the public have 60 days to review the bill before Congress votes up or down on the package.

* Water rule. The Environmental Protection Agency finalized its waters of the U.S. rule this spring, and there is little in it to tame the concerns of agricultural groups. Legislative efforts to stop EPA from implementing the rule are gaining speed, with the House already passing its version. Appropriations bills thwarting funding and court cases will also continue to draw out this fight.

* Reauthorizations. The agriculture committees of both the House and Senate have been busy trying to wrap up reauthorization bills ahead of their expiration this fall.

The full House has approved bills to reauthorize the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, Grain Standards Act and livestock mandatory price reporting. The Senate Agriculture Committee has begun work and hearings on some of those as well. The bills are expected to get to the President's desk ahead of the Sept. 30 expiration date.

* Taxes. As projected, comprehensive tax reform didn't seem likely in 2015, and it looks even less so heading into the 2016 presidential election year. Very little work has carried over from 2014 on expiring tax provisions that saw temporary fixes at the end of the year.

Farmers still seek more permanent policy on Section 179 business expenses and bonus depreciation.

On June 24, Sen. Pat Roberts (R., Kan.) introduced legislation that amends the U.S. Tax Code to permanently allow businesses to deduct 50% of qualified new equipment and property purchases immediately. Bonus depreciation was first enacted in 2002 but has been extended and allowed to expire multiple times.

* Immigration. It would take significant political willpower for legislators to come out with comprehensive immigration reform. The outlook remains bleak as the House continues to offer a more enforcement-focused approach.

Kristi Boswell, director of congressional relations for the American Farm Bureau Federation, encourages all agribusiness professionals to call their legislators and ask for immigration reform.

"Allowing legislators to ignore it because of political pressure is not acceptable," she said. "We need to make immigration laws work the way they were intended. Doing nothing — or just enforcement — is not an option for agriculture any longer."

A Farm Bureau study found that only enforcing the borders — without reforming immigration policy — will cost $30-60 billion in agricultural production and will increase food prices 5-6%.

Volume:87 Issue:d2

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