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Dairy Defined Podcast:

Congressional Balance Affects Dairy Policy but Doesn’t Shift Priorities

November 15, 2022

Control of the House of Representatives remains in doubt nearly one week after last Tuesday’s elections. But regardless of who is in charge in 2023, dairy’s priorities will move forward, says Paul Bleiberg, NMPF’s Senior Vice President for Government Relations, in a Dairy Defined podcast released today.

“The basic policy priorities remain the same,” said Bleiberg. “There are some areas where we might have more support from Republicans, some where we might have more support from Democrats, some where we might have more support on regional lines, and it’s really a question of strategy. Who’s going to be on the Agriculture Committee? Who’s going to be on the Appropriations Committee or the Ways and Means committee? Who are the members that we might go to kind of champion different priorities in those or other committees? That sort of is subject to those dynamics, but our priorities will be our priorities.”

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Alan Bjerga, NMPF: Hello and welcome to the Dairy Defined Podcast. The 2022 congressional elections what do we know? Maybe not much. With races slow to call and congressional control being a matter of razor thin margins for both Democrats and Republicans, much remains unknown nearly one week after Tuesday’s elections. But we do know a few things and we have ideas of how different dynamics can affect agricultural policy. Joining us today is National Milk Producers Federation, Senior Vice President for Government Relations, Paul Bleiberg, giving us as much clarity as this still somewhat cloudy crystal ball can afford us. Paul, welcome to the podcast.

Paul Bleiberg, NMPF: Thanks for having me on Alan.

Alan Bjerga, NMPF: And one shoe has dropped and the other one might not drop for a while. We learned this weekend that the Senate is projected for democratic control, but of course the House is still in doubt. Where are we standing right now, Paul, and what implications could it have for dairy?

Paul Bleiberg, NMPF: Sure. Well, we learned over the weekend that Democrats will maintain control of the US Senate because Senator Catherine Cortez Masto was reelected in Nevada, which means that the Georgia runoff slated for next month won’t determine control of the chamber. It will just determine whether Democrats at a 50 seat or a 51 seat majority. So we’ll know that in fairly short order, but we already know who’s going to control the chamber as far as the Senate is concerned.

House control is still not yet determined. Republicans have clinched 212 seats so far based on what is called. There are a number of races still outstanding. It would appear that they are inching toward that 218 number based on some of the ballots that came in over the weekend. I don’t know when we will know officially who controls the house or not. It will probably depend on the next several days ballot drops from places like Arizona and California in particular. And as those ballots continue to be added to the totals, what are folks understanding of what remains and where those might lean and where they’re coming from? And that’ll impact the timing of when a call for the house could be made.

We need to reassess in this country how we form conventional wisdom about election cycles because we are getting into a place now where the conventional wisdom before an election turns out to be wrong more often than it’s right. And there are a lot of questions to answer there about polarization and parties sorting differently. And also polling. And polling wasn’t all wrong in this instance by any means, but just I think a lot of questions we need to answer about how we make assumptions about the political environment, especially because there are fewer and fewer congressional seats that are truly up for grabs each time as the two parties kind of sort very clearly into certain areas.

Alan Bjerga, NMPF: And it seems like in contemporary voting environments, for some reason, outcomes seem to be coming more slowly than ever. I mean, in Nevada, you had the mail-in ballot acceptance deadline that didn’t expire until this weekend. Is that a problem at all or is this something that we’re just going to be living with because of the nature of how voting is done in the 21st century?

Paul Bleiberg, NMPF: I think it’s just something we’re going to be adapting to as we go forward and living with, because every state’s a little bit different. Obviously Florida was the epicenter of the 2000 election, and now Florida has a system where they count very quickly and all of their races were called fairly early and they’ve changed their system quite a bit. A lot of states have different systems, and I think this is something where folks are just going to have to be patient and get used to the fact that we’re not going to know the outcomes of races as quickly as people might like. Now, I think the reality with this cycle is because control of the house is so close, it’s not just a matter of waiting for how one specific race in California or one race in Colorado might turn out, but it’s how does the entire chamber look?

Because in some instances, we’ve had races that we waited a long time for the results for, but we already knew control. It was just more of a personal interest thing for folks who might want to know about a specific race. But now, because as I said earlier, there are so many seats that are not toss ups, they’re not competitive, they’re not up for grabs anymore. It’s such a small universe of seats that are really competitive and the house is just going to be close I think for a while going forward. We’re not going to see big majorities for Republicans or Democrats. We’re just going to have these close majorities.

The Senate is very closely divided too, and of course, Senate outcomes are sometimes a function of the environment when you have a certain map of seats up. Right. In 2018, obviously it was a tough environment for Republicans, but they expanded their Senate majority because of the map they were looking at. So the Senate is always not the best barometer of how things are really going because it’s distorted by which universe of seats is up. The House is a much better look, and it looks very, very close.

Alan Bjerga, NMPF: So let’s talk about what we do know. Give us a rundown of specific members and how they did, anything that could have an impact on the agriculture committees or agricultural policy in 2023.

Paul Bleiberg, NMPF: Sure. So obviously the leaders of the agriculture committees were all reelected. Senator Stabenow was not on the ballot, but the other three were, and they were all reelected and nobody was expecting that any of them would not be. So that’s not a surprise. In the House, a number of members of the Ag committee in both parties were elected. Again, Don Bacon from Nebraska and Brad Finstad from Minnesota on the Republican side. On the Democratic side, Angie Craig from Minnesota, Abigail’s Spanberger from Virginia, Jahana Hayes from Connecticut were all reelected in their seats, and they all had competitive races to different degrees. Ashley Hinson from Iowa is not on the agriculture committee, but active Ag district and active on those issues. She was reelected as well. There were a few members on the Ag committee that were not reelected primarily on the Democratic side.

It was a smaller number that won’t be coming back next year. On the Senate side, members on the AG committees were reelected for the most part. Senator Bennett from Colorado had a somewhat competitive, where was sought to have a somewhat competitive race. He ultimately ended up winning by a strong margin. On the Republican side senator Thune from South Dakota was easily reelected. Senator Warnock from Georgia on the Democratic side obviously has the runoff now. So we’ll see how that plays out. Senator Hogan from North Dakota on the Republican side was reelected. Senator Grassley from Iowa was also thought to have maybe a more competitive race than he had on the Republican side, but he won. He won fairly comfortably as well. So the Senate Ag Committee members should be at a lot of returning folks. Obviously, Senator Leahy from Vermont will be retiring. Senator elect Peter Welch will be coming over from the House. We’ll find out what committees he will be on next year, but a lot of the Ag Committee members will be returning.

Alan Bjerga, NMPF: Talk a little bit about your home state, Paul, New York, making some headlines in terms of political realignment.

Paul Bleiberg, NMPF: New York definitely made some headlines this year. There were some surprising outcomes there in a number of ways. Obviously in the final weeks of the election, folks thought that Lee Zeldin might have a chance to defeat Governor Hochul. Obviously that didn’t occur, but it was a very close margin, and Republicans did well in New York across the board. They flipped two of the four Congressional seats on Long Island that Democrats had previously held. You had two Democratic incumbents who were retiring. So now Republicans will hold all four on Long Island, and they flipped two seats in the Hudson Valley as well. Marc Molinaro, Republican won the 19th District, which is an open seat. Mike Lawler was really the big story in terms of a lot of the congressional races. He defeated Sean Patrick Maloney in the Lower Hudson Valley, kind of Westchester, Rockland, Putnam Counties, and will be serving.

And on the Democratic side, Pat Ryan won the special election this summer for the 19th District, and he won the open 18th District in the mid Hudson Valley. So you have a number of relatively new folks coming in there. But yeah, New York was certainly a spot where Republicans did very well. They flipped a total of four seats that were previously in Democratic hands. Florida was another state where Republicans did very well. Part of that was on account of the redistricting in Florida, really gave them a map where they had some stronger red seats. And similarly in New York, the map the Democrats had drawn that would’ve given Republicans fewer seats had gotten thrown out in court, so you had more competitive ones. So those were certainly two strong, bright spots for Republicans in a number of other states they didn’t do as well as they were expecting.

Alan Bjerga, NMPF: Again, discussing hypotheticals here, knowing that there’s a lot that we don’t know, let’s play out and say what conventional wisdom is dictating that there is indeed a flip in the House of Representatives, and we do have Republican leadership in that chamber. Tell us how that affects the House Agriculture Committee and what implications that could have for the Farm Bill that’s due in 2023.

Paul Bleiberg, NMPF: Sure. So at the top of the committee, you have a reversal of the positions. Obviously, GT Thompson would become the chairman and David Scott would become the ranking member. Below them you’d have a modification in the number of members on the committee. Republicans would gain some seats. Democrats would lose some seats, obviously, as the ratios in the House will change a little bit. Right. Who will be on the committee? It’s too soon to know because some members that are there right now might move off to other committees, and so you’ll have opportunities for new people to come on or people to come back on who had been on previously.

So either way, probably some new members on the committee, especially on the Republican side, there’ll be a handful of new people coming in that haven’t been on before, and you’ll have a different makeup there. And you’ll also have Republicans being able to set the agenda in a way that they can’t when they’re in the House minority as far as what hearings are held from an oversight perspective. And they’ll be in the driver’s seat in the House for the Farm Bill process to play out next year.

Alan Bjerga, NMPF: More generally Paul, looking at congressional elections changing in the personnel of committees, potentially leadership, do these have any significant effect on dairy’s policy priorities going forward? Or is this more a case where the context may change somewhat in terms of how you deal with things, but the basic policy priorities remain the same?

Paul Bleiberg, NMPF: The basic policy priorities remain the same. I think it’s mostly a question of strategy. Right. There are some areas where we might have more support from Republicans, some where we might have more support from Democrats. Some where we might have more support on regional lines. And it’s really a question of strategy. Who’s going to be on the Agriculture Committee? Who’s going to be on the Appropriations Committee or the Ways and Means Committee? Who are the members that we might go to kind of champion different priorities in those or other committees, that sort of is subject to those dynamics, but our priorities will be our priorities.

Alan Bjerga, NMPF: We’ve been speaking with Paul Bleiberg, Senior Vice President for government relations with the National Milk Producers Federation. Anymore insights, Paul?

Paul Bleiberg, NMPF: I’ll just close with a reemphasizing a statement I made earlier. Before you know it, we’re going to get into the 2024 presidential election cycle, and there’s going to be all kinds of discussion about who’s going to run for president. I would just urge people to look at whatever seems to be forming as the conventional wisdom and just question it, be skeptical of it, because by the time we get to the end of the cycle, things may look very different. I think that’s becoming the norm, not the exception. And I would urge everybody to watch out for that because maybe that skepticism is what we need for us to all have maybe a better understanding of one another and how we view politics and issues and not be so surprised on election night and have such a poor read on what other folks are motivated by.

Alan Bjerga, NMPF: Paul Bleiberg, thank you very much for your time.

Paul Bleiberg, NMPF: Thanks for letting me on.

Alan Bjerga, NMPF: And for more of the Dairy Defined Podcasts, you can find us on Apple Podcast, Spotify, SoundCloud, and Google Play. Thank you very much. Till next time.