Rice Legislative Priorities in a Divided, Distracted Congress

2020 in red with first 0 as a crystal ball
Bright future for rice
Jan 10, 2020
WASHINGTON, DC -- Members of Congress returned to Washington this week to officially kick off the second session of the 116th Congress.  While progress and outcomes will undoubtedly slow down the closer we get to November elections, and potentially sooner, progress could be made on some key rice industry issues.

The U.S. rice industry has already seen a win this year when the Senate Finance Committee passed the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) out of committee by an overwhelmingly bipartisan vote.  While there are six additional committees that will need to consider the agreement by a straight up or down vote, it is highly anticipated that the agreement will pass the full Senate and be signed by President Donald Trump in the coming weeks.  USA Rice continues to push for the swift approval of USMCA in the Senate in hopes that ratification of the agreement will bring much needed market stability for U.S.-grown rice.

Next week, Chinese officials will be in Washington to sign Phase I of an agreement with the U.S. that is expected to pave the way toward normalizing trade with China as well as increasing purchases of U.S. agricultural products, including rice.

While the USMCA and an agreement with China are within sight, USMCA brings no additional benefits to the rice industry from those we enjoyed under NAFTA and full implementation of the China deal may take time.  That's why USA Rice continues to push the Administration to issue the much needed third tranche of assistance from the 2019 Market Facilitation Program (MFP).  USA Rice members would like to see a return of normalcy in the marketplace, but USA Rice is certainly not ruling out the need for the Administration to establish MFP for 2020.

Several items across a range of high profile topics will be considered by Congress this year, including the impeachment trial in the Senate, as well as a plethora of healthcare, infrastructure, and defense and national security proposals.  Agriculture-related legislation could also take shape including reauthorization for the Commodities Future Trading Commission (CFTC) and reauthorization of the Grain Standards Act.  USA Rice will be on the forefront monitoring these along with any number of new legislative proposals that will be introduced.

USA Rice will also continue to advocate for needed funding through the budget and appropriations processes.  As with any Presidential election year, many observers believe that the summer will bring a halt to any legislative progress for the remainder of 2020.

Among topics that may receive attention via introduced legislation include an agricultural labor bill that passed the House last year with reports the Senate will soon begin working on a bill of its own.  Many climate change proposals have been introduced, mainly in the House, and it’s expected several more could be proposed by Members of Congress and committees with jurisdiction, especially given the attention to the subject by candidates vying for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Between now and the first week of March, many things election-related should start to unfold, specifically in the Democratic race for the White House and some battleground states.  There are 34 Senate seats, 12 Democratic and 22 Republican, and all 435 House seats up for re-election this year.

Thirty-five House members have already announced they will not be seeking re-election to their respective seats.  Six Democrats and 22 Republicans are retiring and seven are seeking election in the presidential, gubernatorial, or U.S. Senate races.  Notable retirements from Congress include Representative Mike Conaway (R-TX), Ranking Member of the House Agriculture Committee, and Senator Pat Roberts (R-KS), chair of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Forestry and Nutrition.  Currently, the only rice state or district Member of Congress retiring is Representative Pete Olson (R-TX), who represents Texas’ 22nd Congressional District.  Election Day is Tuesday, November 3, 2020.

USA Rice will continue to monitor and advocate for positive policies and outcomes for the industry throughout 2020, seeking to maintain those programs that are beneficial while eyeing new opportunities for advancement.