January 7, 2022
The November and December reports have run together, as it seems that Congress is always on the verge of significant action but has difficulty in actually getting there! They are now out of session until January 3, 2022, when the Second Session of the 117th Congress will convene. At times, the "noise" from Congress overshadows what has been done, so we will take a brief look at some things that have been completed and some that need to be done as Congress reconvenes.
During the past two years, since the start of the pandemic, a total of 20 bills dealing with COVID-19 relief were passed and signed into law. This includes the CARES Act (S3548) that provided about $2.2 trillion in relief funding for individuals, organizations, and communities, the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), commonly referred to as the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill, and the American Rescue Plan (H.R. 1319), a $1.9 trillion emergency legislative package that provides resources needed to deal with the impact of COVID-19. Overall, this $5+ trillion has made a major difference for state and local governments, individuals, businesses, and organizations as they deal with the impact of the pandemic.
Action was completed on the debt ceiling, one of the items that could have shut down the government. The Democrats wanted this to be a bipartisan action, whereas some members of the GOP wanted it done by Democrats alone. The stalemate ended when Senator McConnell, minority leader and Kentucky Republican, cut a deal with leading Democrats on a convoluted process that would allow the borrowing cap to be raised on a simple majority vote. That way, the measure could pass with only Democrats supporting it, rather than subjecting it to the 60-vote threshold that applies to most major legislation. In a sense, both sides got their way. Mr. McConnell was one of 10 Republicans who voted both to advance and to pass the legislation. The measure was packaged with legislation that would postpone scheduled cuts to Medicare, farm aid, and other mandatory spending programs, a sweetener for reluctant Republicans who have held firm against giving Democrats the ability to raise the debt ceiling. It should be noted that, much like paying a mortgage, the debt ceiling allows paying for past obligations, not approving future expenses.
The FY22 budget is still awaiting final action. There are 12 budget measures that fund the various agencies. The FY22 began on October 1, 2021, without approval for the budgets. Agency funding and operations have continued as a result of the passage of short-term continuing resolutions (CR) that basically maintain funding at the previous year's level. The latest CR extended funding until February 18, 2022. This means some type of action is essential when the new session of Congress begins. While the FY22 budget remains in limbo, work is underway on the FY23 budget. The administration is expected to release their proposal in March. We will be monitoring that and advocating for research funding. Hearings on the Farm Bill can also be expected, as 2023 is the year for the next Farm Bill. In addition, a second "soft infrastructure" bill that would address more social programs and include significant research funding remains under negotiation. Because the midterm elections are this fall, which will determine control of Congress, action on most items is expected to be difficult.
FASS Coalition Letters
One of the ways that FASS advocates for research and research funding is by joining with other organizations in coalition letters designed to provide information to legislators and the public on the value of agricultural research, the need for ongoing funding for research, and the importance of the use of the results. During 2021, FASS participated in 16 letters to congressional leaders and/or the administration for this purpose. You can find these letters on the FASS website under Science Policy. This will be an area of action as it relates to completing the FY22 budget, advancing the FY23 budget, and ensuring that the new Farm Bill addresses animal research needs.
Another way FASS provides information for Congress and the public is through webinars. FASS is a member of the National Coalition for Food and Agriculture Research (NC-FAR). One of the signature activities of NC-FAR are the Hill seminars. Their goal is to inform Capitol Hill staff and other policy stakeholders about the value of public investment in food and agriculture research through seminars featuring leading-edge researchers and extension specialists on topics of high interest. This helps staff make more informed recommendations about federal funding for food and agriculture research. This year, the FASS Science Policy Committee nominated the topic "Animal Protein: From Pen/Feedlot/Barn or from a Petri Dish/Lab?," which was selected for presentation as a webinar held on November 30. Here's a brief description:
Lab-grown meat is a topic of increasing interest among both producers and the public. It is expected that these products are coming to a store near you in the near future. This has implications and raises questions for both producers and the public. Dr. Keith Belk, professor and head of the Department of Animal Science and adjunct professor in the Colorado School of Public Health, discusses the current status of the technology.
A recording of the session is available here: https://www.fass.org/Science-Policy/Policy-Documents.
Earlier this fall, as part of the ADSA Annual Meeting fall webinar series, the FASS Science Policy Committee organized and presented a two-part seminar in preparation for the coming Farm Bill. Nine presentations from the sessions provided priorities and perspectives from the US Department of Agriculture, the House Agriculture Research Caucus, the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR), ADSA, and other organizations, and these are now available on the ADSANews YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC_m0UbCxslwCDJ7amap6Hug
FFAR Executive Director Dr Sally Rockey Retiring
After a 35-year career pioneering agricultural research, Dr. Sally Rockey, the inaugural executive director of the Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research (FFAR), is retiring, although her legacy of supporting early-career scientists will endure through the Rockey FFAR Fellows Program.
Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research is renaming the FFAR Fellows Program as the Rockey FFAR Fellows Program to honor Rockey's commitment to preparing the future scientific workforce. Additionally, FFAR is establishing the Rockey FFAR Fellows Fund to make professional development opportunities more accessible to students from all backgrounds. Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research aims to raise $1.5 million, which, when matched with FFAR funds, will provide $3 million to endow the professional development track of the FFAR Fellows Program. Click here to learn more.
FASS Science Policy Committee
The FASS Science Policy Committee meets via Zoom call. The group continues to make progress on updating the FASS Science Policy Statements and planning activities to advance animal agriculture research. Please contact me if you have questions, ideas, or suggestions on any of these or other policy issues. We will provide additional information as it becomes available. We need to work together to maintain a strong and effective national research effort.
If you are interested in serving on the Science Policy Committee or communicating occasionally with members of Congress on issues related to animal agriculture, we are looking for FASS science policy advocates. Please contact me for details.
Ken Olson, PhD, PAS
FASS Science Policy Coordinator