December, 2022

    January 16, 2022

     

    As a result of the midterm elections, the GOP holds a slim majority in the House of Representatives, meaning that they can elect the Speaker of the House. Late on January 6, after four days of internal negotiation and 15 rounds of voting, Representative Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) was elected Speaker of the House. This was the first time in more than 100 years that multiple rounds of voting were required to elect a speaker.

    Completion of the election is critical for the operation of the government; until a speaker is elected, the House cannot organize, no members can be sworn in, no committee memberships can be confirmed, and no legislation is acted on. With the election of the speaker, the members of the House now have the opportunity to get to work. It is certain to be an interesting year with a divided Congress. Among the many issues that will need to be addressed are an increase in the debt ceiling and passage of the fiscal year 2024 budget. Both will be needed to keep the government operating. In addition, the Farm Bill needs to be passed. None of this is expected to be easy, so stay involved.

    The Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2023
    The 117th Congress was busy until the end of their term and did pass several major pieces of legislation during the year. The final item was the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2023, which totals $1.7 trillion in discretionary resources across the fiscal year 2023 appropriations bills. In total, the regular 12 appropriations bills include $800 billion in nondefense funding, a $68 billion (9.3%) increase over last year. This is the highest level for nondefense funding ever and a larger increase in both dollar and percentage than fiscal year 2022. The bills also provide $858 billion in defense funding.

    Looking specifically at Agricultural Research, the bill provides $3.45 billion - $175 million above the fiscal year 2022 enacted level - for agricultural research programs, including the Agricultural Research Service and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture. According to the appropriations summary, this funding will support research at all Agricultural Research Service facilities to help mitigate and stop devastating livestock and crop diseases, improve food safety and water quality, increase production, and combat antimicrobial resistance. This funding also includes important research investments in US land-grant colleges and universities, including a significant increase for the 1890 and 1994 institutions, and for the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative, the US Department of Agriculture's premier competitive research program.

    Click here for a Summary of Appropriations Provisions by Subcommittee

    Looking Back at the 117th Congress
    As noted, the 117th Congress passed many significant pieces of legislation, most of them with bipartisan support. Here are brief summaries of some of them.

    The Inflation Reduction Act, which passed with only Democratic votes, represents the largest attempt in US history to combat climate change, with a $369 billion package of clean-energy funding covering cars, homes, and businesses. It also aims to curb methane emissions and sets aside money for communities heavily affected by air pollution and other climate-related issues.

    The legislation contains new measures to lower prescription drug costs, including a provision that empowers Medicare to negotiate prices with the pharmaceutical industry, a new $2,000 yearly cap on out-of-pocket costs for prescriptions through Medicare, and a $35 monthly insulin cap for Medicare beneficiaries. It is funded by a potpourri of new taxes, including a 15% corporate minimum tax.

    The Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2023, reported above, also included a major election reform package. The Electoral Count Reform Act will revise the 1887 Electoral Count Act to make it clear that the vice president cannot discount electoral votes. It will raise the threshold for objections from one member of the House and Senate to one-fifth of both chambers. It will also prevent competing slates of electors and simplify state certification with mechanisms to ensure the rightful winner is certified. The bipartisan package, led by Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Joe Manchin (D-WV), is designed to protect US elections going forward and prevent another January 6.

    In response to growing public support for action to address the mass shootings that have become common in the United States for the first time in nearly 30 years, Congress acted to tighten gun laws. The Safer Communities Act, a bipartisan bill led by Senators Chris Murphy (D-CT) and John Cornyn (R-TX), includes grants for states to pass "red flag" laws designed to block people who could pose a threat to themselves or others from purchasing or owning a firearm. It also beefs up background checks of 18- to 21-year-olds, opening the door to examine juvenile records, and attempts to close the "boyfriend loophole" by keeping firearms away from dating partners who are convicted of abuse. The law also clarifies which gun sellers are required to register as licensees and thus are required to conduct background checks on potential buyers.

    The CHIPS and Science Act is both a major piece of legislation and a message that the US does not intend to fall behind China when it comes to global competitiveness. The law, which grew out of a bill first negotiated by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Senator Todd Young (R-IN), makes a $280 billion investment in US semiconductor manufacturing, research, and development, and tax breaks to produce the chips that are so important to many products that we use.

    It was a productive year for Congress and for the future. although none of the bills highlighted above addresses agricultural research specifically, all include significant research funding that is open to agricultural researchers. We need to look at those opportunities as we advocate for increased funding for agriculture.

    Stabenow to Leave Senate Next Year
    The 2022 elections are barely over, but things are already heating up for 2024. There will be many decisions by members of Congress on whether to run again, but a significant announcement was made recently by Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow, chair of the Senate Ag Committee and the third-ranking Democrat in the Senate, who announced that she will not run for re-election in 2024. This opens up a battleground seat in 2024 and creates a vacancy in Democratic party leadership. The four-term senator's decision stunned many Democrats, as she had indicated last year that she was planning to run for re-election. In an interview, Stabenow said she came to the decision over "the last few weeks," adding that "for me, it's important to pass the torch at the right time, and I really feel this is the right time."

    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 funding and encourage the use of sound science in decision-making. With the election results in and committee makeup being finalized, we will resume work with the National Coalition for Food and Agricultural Research on message development for the Farm Bill that reflects our priorities and the results of the election. The underlying message will remain the need to enhance funding for and use of 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 on that or with any questions on items in the report.

    Ken Olson, PhD, PAS
    FASS Science Policy Coordinator
    keolson@prodigy.net