Changes in Congress could mean 'chaos' for farm bill, sugar policy expert says
Zack Clark, vice president of government affairs for the American Sugar Beet Growers Association, spoke at the annual International Sugar Beet Institute in Fargo on Wednesday, March 15, 2023.
FARGO, N.D. — The fallout from the messy election of Rep. Kevin McCarthy as House speaker has the potential to create “chaos” for the next farm bill, a sugar policy expert says.
Zack Clark, vice president of government affairs for the American Sugar Beet Growers Association, said part of the dealing within the Republican Party that led to McCarthy’s drawn-out win was “a House rules change, which is super arcane, but which will have an impact on our ability to get a farm bill across the finish line.”
The change to an “open rule” means amendments to the farm bill and other legislation can be offered on the House floor rather than in committee. Some of those amendments could be what he called “poison pills,” from those who don’t like the bill.
“There could be any number of poison pills that get passed, and then sink the farm bill,” Clark said.
Clark was speaking at the annual International Sugar Beet Institute in Fargo on Wednesday, March 15, updating the industry on policy making in Washington, D.C., where he is based.
“We’re a little bit nervous that if this bill goes to the House floor with an open rule, it could be chaos and we like order,” Clark told Agweek.
Clark said he expects attacks on the sugar program.
“We expect to be attacked; the sugar program will be attacked; there will be harmful amendments aimed at the sugar program,” he said.
There have been a lot of changes in Congress since the 2018 farm bill, which is due to expire this September.
Clark noted there are 19 Republicans and 17 Democrats on the House or Senate Agriculture Committee that have never voted on a farm bill.
“The question is, will this farm bill process be better than the last one? There was a lot of partisan gyrations during the last Congress,” Clark said.
Clark said the changes in Congress aren’t just with new members, but with party leadership.
“The good news for our industry is that they're supporters of sugar. And it's good to have friends in leadership because of their ability to wield their power,” Clark said.
A recent development he pointed to was a letter sent from the House Ag Committee to the House Budget Committee that closes with “we believe additional resources will be necessary to enact a strong farm bill in 2023.”
“It seems like a fairly benign letter, but it's the first time that the House has put on paper that they will need more money to write the next farm bill,” Clark said, noting that the farm bill is roughly a $1 trillion bill that includes farm safety nets and nutrition programs. “So I think that that's an important step that was taken last week.”
Clark, who is speaking at the International Sugar Beet Institute again on Thursday, March 16, also discussed the working of federal agencies, such as the Environmental Protection Agency, that finds itself losing court challenges filed by environmental activists.
He says that could lead to fewer options for crop protection products — herbicides and insecticides. “It could be a significant problem,” Clark said.
Clark said he is trying to remain optimistic that a new farm bill, more than a 1,000 pages long, can be ready this year, which is a goal of Rep. Glenn Thompson, of Pennsylvania, chairman of the House Agriculture Committee.
“He said that anything less would be a failure in his eye,” Clark said.
The chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee is Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, who plans to retire at the end of the next Congress, Clark said. “She has a two-year deadline that she is working with, though I think the desire is to get it done this year, as well.”