Making your voice heard in D.C.
In 2015, during the first session of the 114th Congress, potato growers made their voices heard by their Senators and Representatives both on Capitol Hill and in their home districts and states.
Through letters, phone calls and personal contacts, potato growers worked hard to create the opportunity for success on key legislative issues including repealing the waters of the U.S. rule (WOTUS), increasing truck weight limits, securing potato breeding research funding, establishing federal preemption for food labeling, repealing country of origin labeling (COOL) requirements for meat and poultry and approving Trade Promotion Authority (TPA).
Of all these issues, only the TPA bill made it to the president’s desk. The House supported the WOTUS and COOL repeal efforts on a bipartisan basis, but the Senate did not approve similar measures. Both measures, as do most bills that are in any way controversial, require a 60-vote threshold in the Senate. The effort to establish FDA as the preeminent food safety authority and to establish a voluntary program for labeling food with genetically modified ingredients passed the House but was not taken up by the Senate. The Senate Appropriations Committee included language in the FY 2016 funding bill to increase funding for the potato breeding research program to $2 million. No conference was held on the Agriculture Appropriations bill, forcing all funding bills for FY 2016 to be lumped into a must-pass omnibus bill. As this is being written, it is unclear what gets fixed in the omnibus bill Congress must pass by end of 2015. The potato industry is committing all our resources to achieve success on as many of these outstanding issues as possible.
At this point, the only outright defeat on a critical bill was the failure of an amendment to increase truck weights on federal highways to 92,000 pounds. The increase is supported by safety data from U.S. pilot programs, a recent U.S. DOT study and the experience of most industrialized nations, but strongly opposed by the railroad industry. This fight is not over. It may take another five years until Congress reauthorizes the highway bill, or there may be an earlier opportunity on must-pass legislation, but the effort will not stop.
The support of Congressional members and an active grassroots network is crucial to make progress. Each February during the Potato D.C. Fly-In, potato industry supporters have the opportunity to educate members of the House and Senate on the industry’s legislative priorities.
Members of Congress, well-known political pundits, issue experts and other D.C. insiders will be on the podium to share their knowledge and political perspective on policy issues and on the upcoming political season, including the 2016 presidential election. The most significant part of the Potato D.C. Fly-In is members of Congress hearing from their constituents. Potato growers create jobs and are a vital part of many districts’ economies, so elected representatives are always attentive when listening to firsthand details regarding the latest local issues and concerns.
This country presents extraordinary opportunities to engage with members of Congress and government officials who impact public policy. The grassroots power of individual growers supply NPC the strength and continued focus we need to influence legislative policy. Make your plans today by visiting the Potato D.C. Fly-In registration page at www.nationalpotatocouncil.org.
— John Keeling, executive vice president and CEO