AFR Leaders Lobby Congress on Key Issues
Hurricane disaster relief funds, federal trucking regulations and the farm bill were hot topics for AFR leaders during a four-day lobbying trip to Washington, D.C., Sept. 10-13.
AFR President Terry Detrick lead the group and said they emphasized the need to prevent cuts in the agriculture budget.
“If every agency in Washington was as efficient and cost conscious as the USDA, then we would not have a big budget deficiency today,” Detrick said.
There was concern that hurricane disaster funds would detract from farm program funding. The group was repeatedly assured this would not happen.
During a meeting with USDA Sec. Sonny Perdue, they were told disaster funds would be in addition to regular program funds.
“We expect these to be supplemental appropriated funds,” Perdue said. “This won’t be a zero sum game, taking funds away from the farm bill.”
The AFR leaders heard similar remarks in meetings with the Oklahoma congressional delegation.
“There is flexibility in the budget for FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) to handle disaster funding,” U.S. Sen. James Lankford said. “The biggest issue we see now is the damage to agriculture crops and the loss of income.”
Oklahoma’s Fourth District Congressman Tom Cole, said although that has been a concern in the past, he did not think disaster relief funds would take money from current programs.
“The need is so obvious and great in Texas and Florida, and while Congress recognizes we have a budget deficit, I don’t think they will come back and cut it out of existing programs. I don’t foresee any changes in the immediate future.”
Lankford added he expects the current farm bill, which expires in September 2018, to be extended, to allow Congress time to formulate a new farm bill.
“I think we’re going to take existing farm policy, with a few minor tweaks, and then do an extension,” Lankford said.
A proposed change in the federal trucking regulations was also discussed by the Oklahoma farm group. Effective Dec. 18, the government will require all trucks to use an electronic logging system to track schedules, replacing the current paper logs.
“What they’re doing is forcing every trucker onto the same schedule,” Randy Gilbert, Tecumseh, said. Gilbert owns a trucking company and has a cattle ranch. He wants Congress to repeal the ruling or at least exempt agriculture from the regulation.
“The government needs to understand everyone doesn’t operate on the same sleep and rest schedule,” Gilbert said. “This is being done in the name of safety but it could have the opposite effect as it will force drivers to work when they probably shouldn’t.”
U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe, a member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, said he will work to get this issue fixed.
Taking time away from their Oklahoma farms and ranches to lobby Congress impressed lawmakers.
“It’s always good to have normal people come to Washington,” Inhofe said. “We always like to see Terry (Detrick) bring a group into town. They’re real people and that makes a difference.”
Sen. Lankford recalled his late grandfather, a dairy producer, made similar lobbying trips years ago.
“This (lobbying) is not only something I have seen in my own family but it’s good to see fellow Oklahomans in Washington, D.C.,” Lankford said.
Rep. Cole said the Oklahoma farmers’ visits to the Capitol are valuable.
“It’s extremely helpful for our staff here to get the farmers’ perspective first hand from people who know what they are doing,” Cole said.
Detrick likewise responded by praising the Oklahoma lawmakers for supporting agriculture.
“The Oklahoma Congressional delegation is on the same page with agriculture interests,” Detrick said.
“My hat’s off to our Oklahoma delegation as they are very much in tune with our needs.”
A group of AFR leaders from around Oklahoma recently traveled to Washington, D.C. to lobby on critical rural and agriculture issues.