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A full plate awaits in Washington

Contributed by Jim Mulhern Published on 12 September 2017

The pace of life always quickens after the dog days of August, perhaps nowhere more so than in Washington, D.C., as Congress returns to town after its month-long recess. This September is shaping up as the beginning of an eventful period on Capitol Hill in which movement is expected on issues in which National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) and its members are heavily engaged.

While the outlook is promising for several dairy-specific priorities, the fate of these matters will largely be driven by the broader political forces at play in Congress and with the Trump administration.

Here’s a quick overview of what we need congressional leaders, and the administration, to do as the House and Senate get down to business on Capitol Hill.

Deliver on immigration reform

Few more vexing issues await Congress than the complex, always-controversial matter of immigration policy. NMPF has been collaborating for the past year with Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, as he has developed a major bill creating a new agricultural visa program. The Agricultural Guestworker Act will reflect NMPF’s input as it specifically addresses the needs and concerns of dairy farmers. Although the final text of the bill is not quite complete, the legislation will be a major improvement over the status quo and will help address our industry’s major farm labor challenges. We will continue to work with Goodlatte to pass this measure in the House, while looking for similar opportunities in the Senate. What remains in question regarding this legislation, now, is the timing, especially in light of President Trump’s recent mandate to terminate the DACA program within six months unless Congress acts to continue it.

Fix the farm bill’s dairy safety net

Congress has held a series of hearings in 2017, both here in Washington and around the country, on what the next farm bill should contain. Our message, even before those hearings began, was that dairy farmers need Congress to greatly improve the Margin Protection Program (MPP), and to do so as soon as possible. Thanks to recommendations suggested by NMPF’s board of directors earlier this year, agricultural leaders in both the House and Senate understand that the dairy program is not functioning as intended and must be fixed.

The USDA announcement at the start of the month that farmers can opt out of the MPP for next year simply reflects the reality that the program is not currently working. But what’s really needed is for Congress to fix the program so it offers a more effective, affordable safety net – one that provides support when farmers need it. National Milk’s push on this issue has gained momentum during the summer, as Senate appropriators have proposed changes to make the MPP more affordable for all farmers through a reduction in its premium costs. We need that legislation to receive final approval this fall.

Enforce dairy labeling terms

We’ve made great strides in building support for a bipartisan measure, the DAIRY PRIDE Act (DPA), which would compel the FDA to take enforcement action against mislabeled imitation dairy products that improperly use terms such as milk and cheese. Passage of the DPA would mean the FDA can no longer sit idle while plant-based imitators offer inferior, copycat foods and confuse consumers into thinking such products are nutritionally equivalent to real dairy milk. Our best opportunity to pass this measure is through the annual appropriations process and the inclusion of the DPA language in a government funding bill.

Fund the government

The current fiscal year ends Sept. 30, and appropriations bills for government programs in fiscal year 2018 have yet to be approved. Congress is planning to pass a short-term, 90-day funding extension measure, delaying until Dec. 8 the consideration of new spending bills for FY 2018.

As this fiscal and political drama unfolds on Capitol Hill, we’re also focused on the NAFTA renegotiation process that will continue during the fall. National Milk has been working closely with trade negotiators in the Trump administration to ensure that the revised agreement maintains our market access in Mexico, while confronting the damaging and outrageous new Canadian dairy pricing scheme that threatens to drag down global milk prices. We’ve also worked to counter efforts by the European Union in Mexico and elsewhere to restrict the use of common cheese names, which could rob markets from U.S. cheese producers.

All this will make for a turbulent, unpredictable autumn – but also one that holds the potential for great opportunity for the dairy community. Rest assured, NMPF will continue to stay engaged – and keep you informed – of the progress being made on dairy policy issues here in our nation’s capital.  end mark

Jim Mulhern is the president and CEO of the National Milk Producers Federation. This originally appeared in NMPF’s CEO Corner on Sept. 11, 2017.

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