The Week in Washington

ABN had quite a presence in our nation’s Capital this week, as both Gary Jackson and I were in town covering agricultural endeavors. Gary joined our friends from the Ohio Farmers’ Union on their trip to the National Farmers’ Union Annual Convention. The Convention rotates around from year to year, but it seems this was an appropriate time for NFU to be in town given the relationships outgoing President Tom Buis forged for the organization with top Democrats like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who was a keynote speaker for the second time in three years.



Buis, for what it’s worth, is going to be missed at NFU. Regardless of your politics or affiliation, Buis was tremendous in his role with Farmers’ Union, both in dealing with members of Congress and members of the press. One anonymous Hill-watcher and put it to me this way: Buis has earned NFU clout, coverage, and credibility far beyond their numbers. The National Farmers’ Union, by the way, has roughly the same number of members as the Ohio Farm Bureau.



Buis, off to head up newly formed ethanol lobby Growth Energy, gave his retiring address at the Convention. Our Gary Jackson talked with him, and with incoming President Roger Johnson. Johnson, the state Ag Commissioner from North Dakota, was one of two candidates, and really the only serious one to declare. Coming from North Dakota, the second largest state in the NFU, Johnson started his campaign with at least 20% of the voting delegates in his corner. Gary also talked with him after his election. My colleagues tell me he will be a much different President from Buis.



Meanwhile, I’ve been in town with my friends from the Ohio Farm Bureau. I say my friends in that Ohio Farm Bureau is a strong partner with ABN Radio, and because some of my best friends are involved in this trip. My mentor in agricultural journalism is none other than Farm Bureau’s own Joe Cornely, host of TownHall Ohio, heard on several ABN affiliates around Ohio.



Presidents of the various County Farm Bureau’s have been in town since Monday, visiting various government installations and with numerous Washington leaders and insiders. From visiting the embassy of the Organization of American States to sitting in the chambers of the House Environment Committee, this is a great trip for farmers to educate and be educated on what’s happening relative to agriculture and rural Ohio in DC.



To that end, of course, yesterday was a big day. House Republican Leader John Boehner (OH-8) hosted his umpteenth forum for Farm Bureau members with his fellow Congressmen. Boehner, who served on the House Agriculture Committee until his appointment as Republican Leader, brought in House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson (D, MN-7), Ranking Republican Frank Lucas (R, OK-3), and Ohio Congressmen Jim Jordan (R, OH-4), Bob Latta (R, OH-5), and Zach Space (D, OH-18). Latta also serves on the agriculture committee, as does Jean Schmidt (R, OH-2), although after her poor choices on the Horse Processing Ban of a couple years back, she hasn’t returned to this event… she almost didn’t make it out in one piece the last time…



I met one of Congressman John Boccieri’s top staffers last night up on the Hill, and they are extremely excited to be on the Agriculture Committee. Boccieri (D, OH-16), took the seat vacated by Congressman Space when he moved over to Energy and Commerce. Space shared that he misses the Agriculture committee, but pointed out that he will have a great deal of influence on behalf of Ohio farmers in his new assignment. I happen to agree. The lines of jurisdiction are becoming more blurred on agricultural issues, and increasingly committees beyond the scope of what we traditionally think of as agriculture have a say in the policies that affect us all. While that may be concerning in and of itself, it is clear to me that we must forge more partnerships with “non ag” people like Congressman Space. He, by the way, points out that he didn’t know much about agriculture prior to running for Congress. Ohio Farm Bureau did a tremendous job of building a relationship with him from his early days as a candidate, and that has paid dividends for Ohio agriculture.



Perhaps the two most interesting things to come out of yesterday’s Forum was the sound drubbing each Congressman gave the President and his budget on their far-out ideas of gutting the farm safety net. Chairman Peterson flatly told us that such a proposal was going nowhere, and that Congress will not reopen the Farm Bill.



Peterson, as straight a shooter as you’re likely to find, got even more direct when asked about the “cow tax.” He told members that this is an issue that “aggravates the Hell out of [him],” because it is a work of “fiction.” He told members that he has signed letters from EPA that this frightening concept is not a current proposal, nor has it ever been a proposal at the agency. Many of us felt, and still feel, that this was a trial balloon of sorts, advanced by radical environmental lobby to gauge how much traction they might get for such a concept. Some other Congressmen on the panel seemed to believe that might be the case.



Peterson, incidentally, is indeed a Blue Dog. It was very clear that he agrees with Congressmen Boehner and Lucas on 90% or more of the issues discussed yesterday. While agricultural issues are almost always regional rather than partisan, Peterson is clearly not of the Pelosi/Reid wing of his party. He is extremely conservative on fiscal issues, as evidenced by his response to several questions of spending and his disdain for the glut of federal money going out of the coffers in the first 50 days of the Obama administration.



Farm Bureau members head up the Hill this morning to visit individually with their Member of Congress. Senator Sherrod Brown speaks to the members over breakfast, as did Senator Voinovich yesterday. He, of course, serves on the Senate Agriculture Committee, and employs one of the best agricultural staffers on the Hill in Ohio’s own Joe Shultz. Shultz and I caught up last night, and I credit him for the tremendous support Brown throws behind his state’s number one industry. Shultz grew up on a sheep farm just a mile or two from our house, and he studied Agricultural Economics at both The Ohio State University and Cornell.