Congress returns to Washington this week for what is scheduled to be a three-week session before the Christmas and New Year’s holidays, with an agenda filled with taxes and budget issues while three key nominees for agriculture positions remain unconfirmed.
The Senate Agriculture Committee has approved the nomination of Bill Northey as agriculture undersecretary for farm production and conservation, but Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, has placed a hold on that nomination due to his concerns that President Donald Trump has been too favorable to the renewable fuels industry by maintaining the Renewable Fuel Standard.
Last week Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., had promised to help bring the Northey nomination to a floor vote.
The Senate Agriculture Committee has also held a hearing on Stephen Vaden to be USDA general counsel, but has not voted on his nomination. Vaden’s work for conservatives on voting rights is controversial.
The Senate Finance Committee has approved the nomination of Greg Doud to be the chief U.S. agriculture negotiator. There has been no movement on Doud’s nomination since November 9 when Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., put a hold on the nomination.
Flake wrote Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer over concerns about a White House proposal in the North American Free Trade Agreement negotiations to allow Florida fruit and vegetable producers to use trade remedy laws against seasonal surges of Mexican imports.
A Flake spokesman told DTN on Monday, “Sen. Flake has not received a response and therefore has not lifted his hold on Mr. Doud’s nomination.”
Farm leaders who have expressed fears that President Donald Trump will withdraw from NAFTA have said it is vital for Doud to join the administration as soon as possible.
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Meanwhile, the Senate faces a vote on its version of a tax reform bill, and both houses face the need to fund the government by December 8 when the current funding runs out. Trump met Monday with key Republicans on the Senate Finance Committee as senators seek to vote on their bill later this week.
The American Farm Bureau Federation has said it is pleased with a provision in the House bill that would eventually eliminate the estate tax and a provision in the Senate bill that would double the exemption to $11 million for an individual.
The Congressional Budget Office also published its analysis of the Senate tax bill on Sunday. CBO concluded the bill would increase the 10-year federal budget deficit by $1.414 trillion.
The Senate tax bill would lower the corporate tax rate from 35% to 20% starting in 2019.
The Red River Farm Network, a North Dakota-based radio news service, reported Monday that Mike Ness, a vice president in the tax department at AgCountry Farm Credit Services, said the elimination of a provision known as Section 199 that allows co-ops to pass on production and marketing expense deduction to members will affect all producers.
“A lot of the producers we work with qualify for Section 199 deduction, anywhere between $20,000 to $40,000,” Ness said. “I have a few over $100,000. If they’re in the 25 percent tax bracket, that’s $5,000 to $10,000 tax savings per year.”
Ness urged farmers to monitor the discussion.