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Angus Productions Inc.
Copyright © 2009
Angus Productions Inc.

Assessing the New Political Climate

PHOENIX, Ariz. (Jan. 29, 2009) — The new presidential administration, a changed political climate and the implications for the cattle industry were discussion topics for a National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) Issues Forum during the 2009 Cattle Industry Convention. Sharing some of their views and expectations with NCBA members were speakers Charlie Stenholm, former congressman from Texas, and Sara Wyant, veteran agricultural policy reporter and president of Agri-Pulse Communications Inc.

Chalie StenholmCharlie StenholmStenholm said he fears the congressional agenda will continue to be complicated with rampant partisan politics. The environment in Washington, D.C., he said, “is the worst that I’ve seen it.” On the positive side, he believes President Obama has made some good choices of people to fill his cabinet.

“Tom Vilsack is a pretty good choice,” Stenholm said. “I think he should make a good hand. He seems very teachable.”

Stenholm said implementing an economic stimulus plan presents a huge challenge, for there is a limit to how much money the world will lend to the U.S. Fundamentally, he added, the country has to make changes in the way it does business.

The former congressman warned that USDA must “get its act together” and become the poster child for agency efficiency or face losing regulatory authority over food safety to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). On the issue of country-of-origin labeling (COOL), Stenholm said he can’t see how creating trade barriers will benefit the beef industry. However, he called repeal of COOL impractical.

“Let’s see if we can somehow make it work as passed — at least for awhile,” he advised.

Neither is Stenholm optimistic about repeal of the death tax. He does sense, among members of Congress, some willingness to increase exemption levels. He believes a $6 million to $10 million exemption would allow most family farms and ranches to pass to the next generation.

In her comments, Sara Wyant said, “President Obama is off to a very good start in carrying out his pledge to be transparent. Many of his cabinet picks are very centrist, which could be favorable for agriculture and rural America.”

Sara WyantSara WyantHowever, Wyant expressed uncertainty and even concern regarding some of the new president’s choices for advisors and regulatory “czars.” Noting how some appointees have extreme environmentalist and animal rightist leanings, she worries about how much weight their extremist views will carry in the new administration.

Wyant said she also worries about some of Obama’s own statements, which suggest he may be listening to those who unjustly accuse agriculture of contributing to dangerous greenhouse gas emissions, high food prices and diet/health issues that increase health care costs.

Obama may be off to a good start, but Wyant wonders where he will land on a number of “wild card issues.”

Editor’s Note: This article was written under contract or by staff of Angus Productions Inc. (API), which claims copyright to this article. It may not be published or distributed without the express permission of Angus Productions Inc. To request reprint permission and guidelines, contact Shauna Rose Hermel, editor, at (816) 383-5270.