The turkey industry, along with all of animal agriculture, is gearing up for changes in Washington as a result of the November elections. For only the third time in 50 years, control of the U.S. House of Representatives has changed party hands, with Republicans now the majority having picked up at least 61 new seats. The U.S. Senate remains in Democrat control, as that party will end up with 51 to 53 seats.

As lawmakers headed home in October to their respective districts to face an extremely volatile electorate, they left unfinished most of the Fiscal Year 2011 appropriations bills, FDA food safety legislation, proposed extensions of the ethanol tax credit and import tariff, the climate-change bill and countless other measures that once seemed on the fast track. Some of these issues may yet be addressed in a post-election “lame duck” session.

Congressional gridlock ahead?  

President Obama now will be dealing with a Republican House and a Senate where his party has a greatly reduced majority. This means a Congress that is largely but not completely gridlocked.

Action may shift to regulatory agencies  

The president will have to be far more selective in determining which parts of his agenda to push. Similarly, without absolute control of Congress (or at most control that is far short of veto-proof), Republicans will have a limited ability to roll back the administration’s legislative victories of the last two years. But that doesn’t mean nothing will happen. When different parties controlled the chambers from 1980-86 and again in 2001-02, serious legislation was passed. The 2002 Farm Bill was written in a divided Congress, as was the landmark Tax-Reform Bill of 1986. Even the controversial Patriot Act passed when the GOP controlled the House and Democrats the Senate.

It also means that much of the action may shift to the regulatory agencies, which can promulgate regulations without prior approval of Congress. Lawmakers, especially in a divided Congress, have limited tools to nullify a regulation once it has been finalized.

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New personalities in charge  

There will be new personalities in charge of the House as Republicans take control there. For example, Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, (who represents a major turkey producing district) is the presumptive speaker in a GOP House. And, some individual Democratic representatives and senators who have a strong understanding of poultry production, including Arkansas Senator Blanche Lincoln, have lost their seats. Other notable losses from turkey producing districts include Rep. John Spratt, D-S.C., and Rep. Ike Skelton, D.-Mo. Both chaired major House committees (Budget and Armed Services, respectively). 

So, will there be gridlock, effectively ceding initiatives to the executive branch? Or will Congress find a way to exercise oversight of the regulatory agencies and find enough common ground to pass a handful of key pieces of legislation? Much depends on the leadership of each chamber. If House and Senate leaders can effectively guide their individual bodies, there will be oversight and legislation will pass. When bills make it to conference committee, there is always a chance the partisan divide can be bridged and legislation like, for example, a new Farm Bill passed.

Critical issues pending  

The National Turkey Federation and the entire turkey industry look forward to working with Congress to continue to build a relationship that will benefit all of U.S. agriculture. The turkey industry will remain focused on critical issues – antibiotics, the environment, food safety, the GIPSA rule and renewable fuels – that could ultimately affect the industry’s ability to conduct business.