Election Year & the U.S. House
The rule of thumb in Washington is that there is not much legislating that goes on during an election year. That observation will be absolutely true in 2012, for a number of reasons.
First, there is an extraordinary amount of time being spent on campaigning this year because of redistricting. Every 10 years, when the House congressional districts are redrawn, lots of issues are created for incumbent House members. Some states lose districts, some add districts, or existing districts are reconfigured to correct for population shifts, so members must engage their new constituents. Sometimes two incumbents are pitted against each other in a new district. The bottom line is that there is lots of turmoil for members who have to adapt to new congressional districts and constituencies.
Second, the primary process requires members to fend off challengers from within their own party, as well as position themselves for a variety of potential opponents from the other party. This becomes a huge distraction and a drain of energy and attention for the members and staff.
Third, in order to spend the required amount of time working on the campaign and raising funds for the campaign, the House has fewer legislative days. The House schedule for 2012 has 109 days scheduled for votes. There are 92 legislative days before the November election, and only 79 legislative days before the August recess.
Fourth, the pressure is on to avoid controversial votes. Every vote that members cast will be scrutinized by their opponent in an effort to use it against them. Thus, there are fewer votes and a deep desire to avoid politically sensitive issues.
Fifth, it’s a presidential election year. Typically, when a presidential candidate is in a member’s state or district, the member wants to travel with the candidate (but not always) to show how connected they are with the current or future president. Presidential visits usually draw big crowds, which are hard for members of Congress to turn down.
The bottom line is that there is a constant flurry of political activity all the way to election day. Your industry representatives spend lots of time talking to new candidates who are running for office and incumbents fighting to stay in office. We are constantly working to clarify which members or potential members are supportive of the U.S. sugar industry and policies that either sustain or threaten our industry.
All of this begs the question, “Is there time to pass a farm bill in 2012?” Any major piece of legislation requires a good deal time to develop and floor debate that takes precious time, which is difficult to schedule in a compressed legislative calendar. While we expect to see work done on the 2012 farm bill early this year to address both spending levels and structural changes in some farm policies, there is little certainty as to when (and whether) work can be completed and action taken by both Houses of Congress. Work on the bill in the spring will clarify whether it can be passed in the summer. Stay tuned and be ready.
U.S. Sugar Supply & Demand
January estimates by USDA of sugar supply and demand reduced supplies by 578,000 tons, primarily due to speculation on the Mexican crop size and available sugar to export to the U.S. Mexico suffered a drought last year that was followed by more-than-adequate rainfall. That delayed harvest by about three weeks.
We are reminding everyone that it is still early in the year; and since the Mexican crop was delayed, no realistic projections of domestic production can be credible until early March, when more than half of the Mexican crop will be harvested and processed. Everyone must be patient and let the Mexican data become more certain. After April 1, a much better assessment of Mexican sugar exports to the U.S. can be ascertained — and U.S. production will be well near its completion. There is plenty of time to balance U.S. supply and demand in the post-March period. This system has worked effectively in the past and will continue to do so in the future, if it is allowed to operate as it was designed.
Luther Markwart, author of Dateline Washington, is executive vice president of the American Sugarbeet Growers Association.