Congress returns with 3 ag nominees unconfirmed; tax, appropriation bills | TheFencePost.com

Congress returns with 3 ag nominees unconfirmed; tax, appropriation bills

Congress returns to Washington this week for what is scheduled to be a three-week session before the Christmas and New Year's holidays, with three key nominees for agriculture positions unconfirmed but an agenda filled with other legislative activity that indirectly affects agriculture.

The Senate Agriculture Committee approved the nomination of Bill Northey as agriculture undersecretary for farm production and conservation, but Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, placed a hold on that nomination due to his concerns President Donald Trump has been too favorable to the renewable fuels industry by maintaining the Renewable Fuel Standard.

Last week Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, said that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., promised to help bring the Northey nomination to a floor vote.

The Senate Agriculture Committee has also held a hearing on Stephen Vaden to be USDA general counsel, but has not voted on his nomination.

Vaden's work for conservatives on voting rights is controversial.

The Senate Finance Committee approved the nomination of Greg Doud to be the chief U.S. agriculture negotiator, but there has been no movement on Doud's nomination since Nov. 9 when Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., wrote Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer over concerns about a White House proposal in the North American Free Trade Agreement negotiations to allow Florida fruit and vegetable producers to use trade remedy laws against seasonal surges of Mexican imports and put a hold on Doud's nomination.

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A Flake spokesman told The Hagstrom Report on Nov. 27, "Sen. Flake has not received a response and therefore has not lifted his hold on Mr. Doud's nomination."

Farm leaders who expressed fears President Donald Trump will withdraw from NAFTA have said it is vital for Doud to join the administration as soon as possible.

Meanwhile, the Senate faces a vote on its version of a tax reform bill, and both houses face the need to fund the government by Dec. 8 when the current funding runs out.

The American Farm Bureau Federation has said it is pleased with a provision in the House bill that would eventually eliminate the estate tax and a provision in the Senate bill that would double the exemption. But it is unclear how the bill would affect most farmers in their day-to-day operations.

The Red River Farm Network, a North Dakota-based radio news service, reported Mike Ness, a vice president in the tax department at AgCountry Farm Credit Services, said the elimination of a provision known as Section 199 that allows co-ops to pass on production and marketing expense deduction to members will impact all producers.

"A lot of the producers we work with qualify for Section 199 deduction, anywhere between $20,000 to $40,000," Ness said. "I have a few over $100,000. If they're in the 25 percent tax bracket, that's $5,000 to $10,000 tax savings per year."

Ness urged farmers to monitor the discussion.