During the final year of the Obama administration, Congress will likely address several agricultural concerns. Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA), who sits on the Senate agriculture committee, expects the federal government could tackle free trade, childhood nutrition and ongoing implementation of the farm bill.
The recently finalized Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement among 12 nations still needs Congressional approval, but Grassley says he doesn't expect a vote until late in 2016, after the November presidential election.
"It's kind of a calculation," Grassley says, "is the environment better in March or April or in November or December? And I think, without a doubt, it's going to be better in November and December."
Some have even speculated a vote won't come until 2017.
Grassley, a TPP supporter, says who wins the White House may be less important to the vote than the overall mood in Congress. The massive free trade deal encompasses a wide array of products but people in agriculture have been watching it closely because of potential impacts on dairy, meat and tobacco. Grassley says he doesn't think concerns from individual sectors within agriculture will unduly influence the agreement that enjoys widespread support from commodity groups.
In the arena of child nutrition, Congress is overdue to consider changes to the 2010 Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act.
"The only thing I could say right now is there's a great deal of concern about what's thrown away, that kids don’t eat," Grassley says, "and whether kids are getting enough meat and things of that nature. And I think there'd be some relaxation of federal regulation."
The law has pitted different food sectors against each other and raised concern from parents and school food service managers.
Finally, Grassley, who is chair of the judiciary committee, expects to continue an oversight role in implementation of the 2014 farm bill to ensure it's "carried out the way it was intended." He previously expressed chagrin that budget negotiators put cuts to crop insurance in a major deal, which passed with promises of rescinding those particular cuts later. The crop insurance money was reinstated in the federal transportation bill. But Grassley has bristled at what he calls “opening” the farm bill and says that leaves open the possibility of further changes. Seeing that now as an opportunity, Grassley says he may be able to push for payment limits and other changes he wanted but didn't get when the law was finalized in 2014.