President and Republican Congress seek a path forward

The 114th Congress is well underway. New members of the House and Senate have been sworn in, party leadership elected and committee assignments made. Both chambers of Congress are now governed by members of the Republican Party, and the members are trying to determine a path forward and way to work with the nation’s president, a member of the Democratic Party. 

On the surface, such a combination may appear challenging, but history shows us just the opposite. Some of the most productive legislative times in the nation’s history have been when the government was divided.

For example, during President Bill Clinton’s second term, the Democratic president had to work with a Congress led by House Speaker Newt Gingrich. During that time, Congress passed and the White House signed major reforms to the nation’s welfare programs.

The next president, George W. Bush, dealt with a Congress led by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and spearheaded major reform to primary education programs called “No Child Left Behind” in 2002.

President Barack Obama has an aggressive agenda, much of which he outlined during his State of the Union address in January. Tax reform for the middle class, immigration overhaul and greenhouse gas emission reductions topped the list of issues he wants to see tackled. Congress, on the other hand, has a different plan forward for all of those issues. It is unclear how these two will work together for the next two years.

Bipartisanship has never been a problem for the House and Senate Agriculture Committees. In general, agriculture policy is regional, not partisan in nature. The 114th Congress brings new leadership to the committees with Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), who has the distinction of being the only person to serve as the agriculture committee chair in both bodies, serving as chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, and Rep. Mike Conaway (R-Texas), leading the House Agriculture Committee. Both have long advocated for agricultural interests in their state and district and both have been friends to the Cooperative and its members. The House and Senate agriculture committees have added new members to the roster as well.  For a complete listing of committee membership, go to agriculture.house.gov or agriculture.senate.gov.

While dairy advocates spent the better part of the 113th Congress lobbying at the doorstep of the agriculture committee, these next two years bring other challenges and opportunities.  Specifically, Congress will have to debate and renew the Child Nutrition Act, the legislation that authorizes school meal programs. When the bill is considered in the House, it will be before the House Education and the Workforce Committee. The committee is led by Reps. John Kline (R-Minn.) and Bobby Scott (D-Va.). The committee make-up is decidedly different from the agriculture committee, with more urban members and those unfamiliar with our industry. Now more than ever, it is important that we, as an industry, stay connected with legislators and other policy makers who are setting policy that will dramatically increase the exposure of children to nutritious milk and other dairy products.