Whither Washington, DC?

Mark Chandler, Executive Director

After a brutalizing year of abundant theatre but little action, Congress has only a few weeks left to pass major pieces of legislation affecting agriculture – the budget, the Farm Bill and immigration reform. Or not.

By all accounts this week is critical for the Farm Bill. The conference committees representing the House and Senate have stated they want to make their report before the Thanksgiving break, which starts Friday afternoon. This bill is of greatest import to the wine industry. It contains numerous items that benefit our industry including crop insurance, specialty crop research and block grant funds, the National Clean Plant Network, and Market Access Program funds. We are happy to report that both the Senate and House versions fund the specialty crop items at industry-supported levels.

The major item in the Farm Bill is the food stamp program (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP for short). The Senate version calls for $4 billion in cuts, the House $40 billion. Talk of a compromise is in the high single digits, however some positions are still dug in. There is also the prospect that the Farm Bill may be absorbed into some larger budget negotiations.  

The budget is another snarl seeking a solution. In order to try to balance the budget the prospect of excise tax increases and new fees loom in the background. Our messaging in opposition to excise taxes are the following: 1). By its very nature, wine is an expensive product to make (land, equipment, staff, taxes); 2). The wine industry has grown rapidly and supports significant rural economic development; 3). Excise tax increases undermine winery profitability and accordingly rural growth; 4). The small producer tax credit is a particularly important–$90,000 in savings means a lot to a small capital intensive business.

 Unfortunately the high hopes we had for immigration reform earlier this year are fading. The window of opportunity is drawing to a close as higher priority items get dealt with in the few days left to conduct business. We will keep you posted of developments and recommendations for action.