By Sherry Bunting, (Nov. 25 interview has been updated since Thompson’s official caucus election to Ag Committee chairmanship)
WASHINGTON – With Republicans securing a slim majority in the U.S. House after the midterm elections, Congressman Glenn ‘G.T.’ Thompson (R-Pa.) is preparing to move from ranking member to chairman of the House Agriculture Committee when the 118th U.S. Congress is sworn in for the next legislative session on January 3, 2023.
The House Republican Steering Committee made it official December 7, selecting Thompson incoming Ag Committee Chair, the first from Pennsylvania since 1859.
Outgoing Chairman David Scott (D-Ga.) expressed his appreciation to fellow committee members, sharing in a statement: “As I prepare to hand the gavel over to Mr. Thompson… I am encouraged by the bipartisan work we have accomplished together, particularly around our shared interest in broadband and access to USDA programs for our new and small producers. Heading into the 2023 Farm Bill, I am hopeful and prayerful that the collegial spirit will continue and that the Agriculture Committee will be able to deliver a farm bill with strong Republican and Democratic bipartisan support.”
A first order of business for incoming Chairman Thompson is to host his first official 2023 farm bill field hearing on the first Saturday of the Pennsylvania Farm Show, January 7 in Harrisburg.
Thompson has had a long history of holding listening sessions during the Farm Show and bringing with him some committee members from other states. This time, he’ll be looking at a larger venue at the complex, and he’s inviting all Democrat and Republican members of the House Ag Committee as well as prospects.
“The committees won’t be fully populated by then, but the chairmanship will be confirmed,” said Thompson in a recent Farmshine phone interview.
“The most important priority is the on-time completion of the 2023 farm bill as the current farm bill expires at the end of September 2023,” says Thompson. “Certainly, beyond that, we have oversight functions that are really important too.”
One of those areas of oversight, he explains, is the House and Senate Republican request already sent to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack asking for an audit on “all the pots of money” in USDA that have come through executive actions and the spending in bills passed by the Democrat majority.
“We are asking for this audit because we believe it will be helpful going into the farm bill process to see those funds outside of the baseline,” Thompson explains. “We’ll be following up and looking forward to getting that information.”
In addition to bringing USDA in for oversight within and outside of the farm bill process, Thompson mentioned the leadership will want EPA Secretary Michael Regan to explain the things EPA has been advancing that are creating uncertainty and problems for America’s farmers and ranchers.
Outside of the funding for USDA conservation programs, Thompson says he is “absolutely opposed to making (the farm bill) a climate bill.”
It’s going to be busy in Washington D.C. after January 3, but he says he remains committed to bringing the Whole Milk for Healthy Kids Act forward again with potential legislative improvements.
“We’ll jump on whole milk right away, but it’s not in the farm bill, and it’s not in the Ag Committee, it’s in the Education and Workforce Committee,” Thompson explains, noting that he will be a senior member of that committee also, and will work with the chairman.
He reports that the Republicans had teed up a version of the childhood nutrition reauthorization last summer in that committee, but their bill and their amendments to allow whole milk and 2% milk in schools and in the WIC program did not make it into the version passed by the House on party lines.
The good news is the House Democrats’ version of the childhood nutrition reauthorization, without the whole milk provisions, also did not advance through the Senate, so it will be a do-over next session.
“Let’s hope the third time is the charm,” says Thompson. “I remain hopeful we can do it through that. My goal is to work hard to get it in as part of that base bill and go from there. We’ll need bipartisan support in the Senate, where the childhood nutrition reauthorization requires 60 votes.”
The Senate remains split down the middle with an edge to the Democrats in terms of committee leadership in the next Congress.
Back to the farm bill priorities, Thompson said protecting crop insurance as well as other crop and livestock protection products like Livestock Gross Margin (LGM) and LGM-Dairy as well as Dairy Margin Coverage (DMC) and support for DRP are front-burner. Enhancing them — where possible — ranks high on his list.
Along with that, he says the committee is learning from the disaster payments that have been made outside of the farm bill baseline to be looking at how to incorporate more of that relief in a way that provides certainty for farmers and ranchers and for the lenders providing them with access to capital.
Another priority will be to look at the Title I reference prices for commodities.
“With record high inflation, the challenge is not what is paid, but the margin left at the end of the day,” says Thompson.
“There’s really no part of the farm bill that’s ‘unimportant.’ The nutrition help is important to give a hand-up to those in need, and to be using this to provide access to career and technology education so people can rise above their financial struggles,” he explains.
When asked about milk pricing reforms in the farm bill, and the change made to the Class I mover in the previous farm bill, Thompson said: “It’s all on the table. No conclusions have been drawn yet. As we do these listening sessions and hearings, this is where we’ll decide what the tweaks will be to areas of the farm bill.”
Asked what he thinks about the talk coming out of the COP27 in Egypt this week, of the U.S. pledging to pay $1 billion in reparations to other countries for climate impacts – noting that China is being exempted from paying such reparations because of still being defined as a ‘developing’ nation — Congressman Thompson was blunt in his response.
“It is absolutely ridiculous. We should not be paying for that. The United States of America leads the way in the reduction of greenhouse gases, and a big part of that is because of our farmers and ranchers. They are our climate heroes, and they’re not getting enough credit for that, for what they are already doing,” he said.
In a follow up question about the ESG scoring and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) proposed rule to track scope 3 emissions back to the farm level, Thompson observes: “Those are political-science driven policies with no place in American agriculture or American finance for that matter.”
When asked about the $11.4 billion in annual funding the President pledged at COP27 for climate transitions in other countries, Thompson added: “We would be funding some of the dirtiest economies in the world. It’s not our role to do that.”
The House controls the ‘purse strings’ so to speak, so this could be a show-down.
Given how CBO scoring of baselines is sometimes a hair-splitting mechanism in a farm bill negotiation, what was implied, without being specifically said by the incoming Chairman, is that some of these climate funds going elsewhere with no accountability might best go to making sure America’s farmers and ranchers have the certainty and backing they need to continue as American food producers. That, in itself, is good for climate and the environment.