Last month, nearly 122 million voters headed to the polls to cast their vote in the November general election. President Barack Obama was elected to a second term in office and will continue to face a Congress divided by two parties.
According to Jackie Klippenstein, vice president of industry and legislative affairs, several Dairy Farmers of America members have expressed interest on how the election’s outcome could impact those in agriculture, as well as who will lead the president’s initiatives and policies directed toward rural America and the dairy sector.
Klippenstein says she believes U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack will remain at the helm next year with several administration initiatives still pending, including the passage and implementation
of the next Farm Bill.
“During his tenure at USDA, Secretary Vilsack has overseen several aid programs that have supported dairy producers under economic uncertainties and market imbalances,” Klippenstein says. “Additionally, the secretary has been supportive of industry efforts to reform federal dairy policy.”
Should the secretary or the president, however, decide that now is the time for Vilsack to leave the administration, Klippenstein says there are several merited candidates that have already surfaced to replace him, most notably former Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) and retiring Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.).
Lincoln made headlines as the first woman to chair the Senate Agriculture Committee and was a strong voice for dairy producers and agriculture during her tenure in the Senate. Conrad, who previously chaired the Budget Committee and was a senior member on the Agriculture Committee, is considered by many to be the foremost expert on agricultural budgetary matters, Klippenstein says.
“Both have a unique understanding of agriculture and a strong level of statesmanship when it comes to working with lawmakers on Capitol Hill, and would be able to identify future initiatives that benefit rural America should the secretary depart,” Klippenstein says.
Senate Democrats expand control
Democrats will maintain control of the Senate, by expanding their majority to 55–45 with gains in Indiana, Massachusetts and Maine. The Democrats nearly defended every competitive seat this cycle with the exception of Nebraska, where Republicans picked up the seat of departing democratic Sen. Ben Nelson. Additionally, Democrats were able to hold or gain Senate seats in some states that Republican presidential nominee Gov. Mitt Romney carried. Those states included Missouri, Montana, North Dakota and West Virginia.
According to Sam Stone, DFA vice president for government relations, this change will do little to impact the dynamics in the Senate as Democrats lack the 60 votes required to procedurally move forward on legislation, through a process known as cloture, without bipartisan support.
“For any progress to be made on substantive future policy reforms, senators must find a way to reach across the party aisle and compromise by working together,” Stone says.
Stone points out that one specific example of bipartisanship this year was passage of the Senate’s 2012 Farm Bill.
“While I am disappointed that Congress has yet to complete the 2012 Farm Bill, lawmakers on the Agriculture Committees have been able to work together in putting forth a bill this year,” he says.