Now that Republicans have officially assumed leadership of the House of Representatives and the Democrats have begun running the Senate with a reduced majority, the focus changes to what the 112th Congress can actually accomplish.

Often, a divided Congress spells gridlock, and there are reasons to believe that will happen again. The Republican House leadership sees the big GOP wins in November as a clear mandate to put strong controls on government spending, roll back the health care reform bill and initiate strong oversight of a variety of new regulations. House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., has certainly picked up on this theme by advocating in-depth review and oversight of environmental regulations and a closer examination of the Grains Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA) proposed marketing rule.

In the Senate, meanwhile, the Democratic leadership appears to interpret their continued majority as a sign that the nation wants some counterbalance to the House initiatives.

Regulatory restraint?  

President Obama interestingly has adopted somewhat of a regulatory restraint theme himself through his executive order, “Toward a 21st Century Regulatory System.” In the executive order, Obama outlined a regulatory strategy with the stated goal of increasing transparency and accountability in regulatory compliance. He also emphasized the need to reduce burdens on small businesses wherever possible.

There is, however, a strong likelihood that Congress and the president have very different definitions of a reduced regulatory burden. With these competing visions firmly in mind, NTF now turns its attention to areas important to the turkey industry.

Four issues to watch  

In addition to increased oversight of the proposed GIPSA rule, following are some other priorities that will get attention:

Ethanol.  With Congress having extended the ethanol tax credit and import tariff through the end of this year, Congress will have to review these ethanol supports again in the next few months. As House Republican leaders look for ways to cut the deficit, this costly program could come under increased scrutiny. Complicating the issue is the ethanol industry’s effort to shift the debate by advocating an end to the current tax credit and the creation of a new one that would go directly to ethanol producers and additional programs that would help strengthen the ethanol transportation and delivery infrastructure.

Farm Bill.  Efforts to write the 2012 Farm Bill are likely to begin this year. However, budget shortfalls are expected to create difficulties for the bill, and may be weakening support for longstanding farm programs. Getting the Farm Bill through Congress is rarely easy; it could prove an especially daunting task this time around.

Trade.  With agreement reached on the Korea Free Trade Agreement, the industry is pushing for final approval from Congress before implementation can begin. The administration has also noted that pending agreements with Colombia and Panama are in the final stages of completion. Expanding U.S. export markets in Cuba and Korea, as well as maintaining markets in Russia and China, will be critical in the year ahead.

Antibiotics.  Although the likelihood of legislation to restrict antibiotic use in animal agriculture gaining any traction is low, NTF will continue to educate Congress on sound antibiotic use practices in animal agriculture and the importance of adequate tools to protect animal health. As more attention is given to regulatory oversight, NTF will also work with FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine on modernizing the agency’s veterinary feed directive and veterinary oversight as long as they are not administratively burdensome.

Although gridlock at times seems inevitable in the 112th Congress, there is still much at stake for animal agriculture. It will be imperative that we work together to educate new members of Congress on issues that ultimately affect our industry’s ability to conduct business.