EDITOR’S NOTE – Rep. Travis Childers (D-Miss.) and Rep. Randy Neugebauer (R-Texas) are members of the House Agriculture Committee and know the importance of working in a bipartisan manner in Congress – especially when it comes to cotton issues. In this interview with Cotton Farming, they discuss a broad range of topics affecting the industry.
Is bipartisanship a lost concept in Washington as it pertains to ag legislation?
Rep. Neugebauer: I don’t think so. The agriculture committees have traditionally been among the most bipartisan committees in Congress. Any partisan tone farmers might think is coming from Washington is more a reflection of disagreement with overall priorities the majority party has pursued, particularly in the past year.
Rep. Childers: Of all important issue areas, agriculture may have the most promise for encouraging bipartisan cooperation. Regardless of party affiliation, Rural Caucus members are committed to working together to address the pressing and unique issues facing America’s rural communities.
As we move into an election year, what are the major issues confronting the House Agriculture Committee?
Rep. Neugebauer: The Committee needs to continue looking at current policies, particularly full implementation of the last Farm Bill and see what is working, what is not working and what the appropriate action needs to be.
Rep. Childers: Right now, disaster assistance is one of the most pressing issues facing the agriculture industry, as so many producers throughout the country suffered severe crop loss due to last fall’s heavy rains. In addition, the Committee will be closely watching the implementation of programs included in the 2008 Farm Bill that are now being rolled out.
Can Committee members appreciate why the cotton industry feels as if it has a target on its back in the WTO talks?
Rep. Neugebauer: Yes, many Committee members realize the attention agriculture policy has been given under the current Administration and from other outside groups. Modern family farms are not the same as going to Grandma’s farm. The size of farms today requires risk management and policies matched to the reality of modern agriculture.
Rep. Childers: As a north Mississippian and our state’s only member serving on the House Agriculture Committee, I understand the difficulties the cotton industry faces. My district has watched the garment industry in our region move overseas, and we’ve witnessed the detrimental ripple effect that this has had on our local economy, including the cotton industry.
Should the words “level playing field” be removed from the conversation since it may never be achieved in global trade talks?
Rep. Neugebauer: A level playing field is the ultimate goal in trade negotiations. While we may not always get there, I think it is important to start with an ambitious goal in mind. The United States has one of the most open markets in the world, although we may not always get credit for our openness and commitments we offer to make.
Rep. Childers: Any future trade agreements need to adequately open and free markets to farmers in our region. I will continue to work closely with our trade representatives to ensure that the U.S. cotton industry is able to fairly compete both domestically and internationally.
Can you understand the cotton industry’s concerns about climate change legislation?
Rep. Neugebauer: This bill would raise the cost of energy used in every step of production agriculture. The negative effect that bill would have on producers in my district is one of the several very good reasons I voted against it.
Rep. Childers: I have serious concerns about climate legislation, which is why I was unable to support the House Energy Bill last year. We can’t have true comprehensive climate legislation unless agriculture plays a larger role. Climate legislation needs to include more incentives and more recognition for all of the energy-reducing initiatives that most farmers have already employed.
How can the 2008 Farm Bill be protected from budget cuts?
Rep. Neugebauer: For 2009, the federal deficit was $1.4 trillion, and recent budget projections from the White House show a $1.6 trillion deficit for the 2010 fiscal year. These deficits and the growing debt are simply unsustainable. Farmers can’t run a viable operation that way, and neither can the federal government. I do think we will face a situation in which all mandatory spending is put on the table to find savings. It may not be this year, but when it does happen, it will be up to my colleagues and me who understand the Farm Bill to make sure agriculture is not singled out and is treated fairly.
Rep. Childers: While budget cuts should be directed at programs that are duplicative or ineffective, I also understand that proposals to cut cotton storage credits and direct payments could be detrimental to the cotton industry. My Committee colleagues and I are prepared to go to bat for provisions that are essential to the survival of American farmers.
Are you surprised that House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) is contemplating hearings this spring on the 2012 Farm Bill?
Rep. Neugebauer: I am not surprised. The Farm Bill is probably the most important piece of legislation for rural America. Producing a good bill is something that takes time. I think the chairman is simply trying to give people adequate time to have their views heard, while still allowing the chance of passing a new Farm Bill before the current one expires.
Rep. Childers: Every Farm Bill is a massive piece of legislation that’s responsible for sustaining agriculture for five years. The sooner we begin assessing the current Farm Bill programs, and the sooner we begin exploring new issues in agriculture, the more informed members will be and the better the final product will be.
Is it hard to get legislation moved out of the House Ag Committee during an election year?
Rep. Neugebauer: Any legislation is harder to pass during an election year. While there are some things we need to work on this year in the Agriculture Committee, I don’t expect to see a lot of major legislation.
Rep. Childers: The Agriculture Committee has a long history of being one of the least partisan committees in the House, which is what makes it such a great committee to serve on. I will continue to work with Committee members from both parties to move along meaningful legislation.
Will our trade representatives continue to protect U.S. cotton’s interests in the WTO talks?
Rep. Neugebauer: I believe U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk realizes what is at stake through WTO negotiations, and I’ve been encouraged by recent comments he has made in support of U.S. cotton. He is well aware of how some proposals in the WTO could affect U.S. cotton. After a year, I am still not clear what our nation’s trade policy is going to be.
President Obama made comments in his State of the Union speech about increasing exports for U.S. agriculture and other industries, yet he was not very specific.
Rep. Childers: I have followed the Brazilian cotton trade issue, and I have weighed in where necessary. I can’t speak for our trade representatives, but I can assure you that I will work closely with them to make sure that U.S. cotton can compete fairly both domestically and internationally.
If you had a parting message for U.S. cotton farmers, what would it be?
Rep. Neugebauer: I believe with any profession you must remain optimistic about your future. U.S. cotton farmers should take great pride in their work. They have invested in their industry for years and now produce far more cotton using far fewer resources. I will continue advocating on behalf of U.S. cotton here in Congress, and I believe sound policies combined with continued research will make the future of the industry better than the past for U.S. farmers.
Rep. Childers: I would like to express my deep appreciation for the great contributions our cotton farmers make to our national and local economies and communities. I also want our farmers to know that I’m here for them. And please use me and my staff as a resource. I encourage them to contact any of my offices if there’s anything I can do for them.
Contact Rep. Randy Neugebauer in Washington at (202) 225-4005. Contact Rep. Travis Childers in Washington at (202) 225-4306.
Rep. Randy Neugebauer
• Native of St. Louis, Mo.
• Graduate of Texas Tech University.
• Lubbock City Council (1992-98).
• Lubbock mayor pro tempore (1994-96).
• Elected to Congress in 2003.
• Re-elected three additional times.
• Seeks re-election in 2010.
Rep. Travis Childers
• Born in Booneville, Miss.
• Graduate of Univ. of Mississippi.
• Prentiss Co. Chancery Clerk (1992-2008).
• Elected to Congress in May 2008 in special election.
• Re-elected to Congress in Nov. 2008.
• Seeks re-election in Nov. 2010.