Meat and Poultry Special Investigator Act of 2022

Floor Speech

Date: June 16, 2022
Location: Washington, DC


Mr. Speaker, I rise today in opposition to H.R. 7606 because, simply put, this bill does nothing in the immediate future to lower food and fuel costs.

Long before Russia's invasion of Ukraine, America's farm families and consumers were struggling with fractured supply chains, skyrocketing input costs, and historic levels of inflation, each of which continue to contribute to increased food prices and diminished inventories.

Despite these crises, Democrats have neglected to take serious action to incentivize increased American production. In fact, we are here today to debate a bill that compounds the situation, further limiting American farmers' abilities to meet global food demand and doubling down on the idea that more spending and big government will feed the world.

Adding insult to injury, the White House has been quick to blame the private sector and alleged industry concentration for the current crisis.

Economists across the spectrum--including former Obama and Clinton administration officials--have dismissed the strategy as misleading, at best, or otherwise, blatantly political.

So it is not surprising that at the behest of the White House, we are debating a package where the anchor piece of legislation perpetuates a tired narrative of blame, duplicates existing authorities, ignores industry and producers, and undermines the Department of Justice.

It is also not surprising the party of defund the police also has become the party of more cops for cows. At every turn, this administration has obsessively pointed the finger at the packing industry, in particular, blaming them almost singlehandedly for rising food costs.

They have done so via blog posts, contrived public events, and press briefings, all without any acknowledgment of the culpability of their own reckless spending and heavy-handed regulatory agenda.

My Democratic colleagues have dutifully played along, executing sensationalized hearings and political theatrics designed to support unvetted and controversial bills.

Mr. Speaker, it is no wonder many of us question the seriousness of the bill before us today. If this were a serious exercise, my Democratic colleagues would not have paired such an egregious example of legislative overreach with several other very thoughtful, very bipartisan bills.

If this were a serious exercise, my Democrat colleagues would not have added two unvetted Democrat amendments that are more about political point-scoring than genuine near-term policy solutions.

If this were a serious exercise, my Democrat colleagues would have worked with Republicans to form a concrete, immediate policy solution with a chance of consideration in the Senate.

Now, I know both parties understand the gravity of these issues. While we may have disagreements on policy, I was confident that we could find common-ground solutions, if given the opportunity.

I am dumbfounded as to why Democratic leadership would choose this moment--when consumers are deciding between gas in their cars or food on their tables--as an attempt to score political points, especially on the heels of a nearly 9 percent increase in consumer prices, the worst this Nation has seen since the Carter administration.

So, Republicans forged ahead, and we developed solutions. Earlier this week, Leader McCarthy and I, along with nearly 100 of our Republican colleagues, sent a letter to President Biden outlining administrative actions that he could take immediately to mitigate rising input costs, and strengthen the role that American agriculture plays in global food stability.

And yesterday, I, along with many of those same Members, introduced H.R. 8069, the Reducing Farm Input Costs and Barriers to Domestic Production Act. This bill would reverse many of the more harmful regulatory burdens spearheaded by this administration, address escalating input costs, and provide certainty to farmers, ranchers, agribusinesses, and other entities across the food and agriculture supply chain.

Specifically, the bill provides relief from EPA's unprecedented actions related to pesticides and other vital crop protection tools; offers clarity related to WOTUS regulations; rescinds the SEC's harmful proposed rule on climate-related disclosures; reinstates the 2020 NEPA streamlining; and requires an economic analysis on the costs and the benefits of GIPSA rules. These are all actions which would provide immediate relief to our farm families and households across the globe, and they all were rejected by the Rules Committee majority as amendments to the bill before us.

The letter and this bill stand in stark contrast to what we have seen from the White House and the Democrats in Congress and their efforts to scapegoat private industry for skyrocketing gas prices and sustained supply chain failures.

So, in short, the crises we are facing cannot and will not be mitigated with unfunded mandates, duplicative authorities, politicized agencies, and Big Government, all of which are laced into H.R. 7606.

I remain opposed to this bill and the process which got us here but stand willing to work with my colleagues on commonsense, near-term solutions to provide immediate relief to farmers, ranchers, foresters, and American consumers.

General Leave

Mr. DAVID SCOTT of Georgia. 7606.

Mr. Speaker, I think we should see an extension, a little bigger of that poster that we saw there. That concentration occurred because of exactly what we are seeing today of government and Democrats leveling regulations. It was regulations that caused the concentration within the meatpacking industry. What happened when you put on more regulations, small- and medium-sized processors weren't able to continue to work. They couldn't cope with the compliance costs. They just couldn't handle those increased regulations.

Today, we are seeing not just additional regulations, but a whole new police officer being created under the poison pill within this legislation, special investigator bill.

I would argue that maybe we ought to blow that chart up a little more so we can see and project just how much more concentration occurs when we force more small- and medium-sized processors out of the business. It will result in increased concentration with this legislation.

During the recent packer hearing, Chairman Scott mentioned that he used a chart compiled of what really was cherry-picked data with zero context to accuse all four of the major beef packing CEOs of price- fixing and collusion.

The packing executives explained the multitudes of supply and demand dynamics supporting the data, including the cyclical ebbs and flows of cattle production. Each of them denied the chairman's accusation under oath.

Despite their denial, this week at the Rules Committee, the chairman accused the packers of lying under oath. According to the chairman, a price-fixing scheme is the only plausible explanation for increased meat prices. It is no wonder I have serious doubts about this administration's ability to objectively carry out these new authorities.

I agree with the chairman, who is a dear friend. We work well together on well over 99 percent of everything that we engage on, just not this particular poison pill today. USDA is the right place to be the cop on the beat for this. In fact, they already are.

USDA already has an entire Packers and Stockyards Division charged with enforcing the Packers and Stockyard Act that has been in place since the 1930s. Based on the latest available data, they have filed and closed almost 1,900 cases just in 2020 alone. The division already consists of a team of seasoned attorneys, market specialists, and auditors, and it has the option to pursue administrative enforcement through USDA's Office of General Counsel before an administrative law judge or through the Department of Justice in Federal court.

I agree the USDA is the place for oversight of the packing industry, and it is already in place. This duplicative mandate with all the issues it brings is not warranted.

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Mr. THOMPSON of Pennsylvania. Mr. Speaker, I am honored to yield 3 minutes to the gentlewoman from Florida (Mrs. Cammack), who is another great member of the House Agriculture Committee.

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Mr. THOMPSON of Pennsylvania. Mr. Speaker, may I inquire how much time is remaining on each side of the aisle.

Mr. Speaker, I just want to replow some of the fields and the comments that have been offered here today. One of my friends on the Agriculture Committee on the other side, Ms. Spanberger, claims industry support. She referenced two specific organizations. But it is certainly not widespread support among farmers and ranchers.

I will offer up this fact: Organizations that are constituted by farmers and ranchers, including the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, which is a large cattlemen's association throughout this country made up of men and women in the cattle industry, and the National Pork Producers Council are organizations that oppose this piece of legislation. The National Pork Producers Council is made up of farmers who raise hogs in so many different States in the United States of America. It is a huge industry in terms of agriculture. That organization opposes this bill.

The National Chicken Council--poultry--is huge certainly in the State of Virginia, the State of Pennsylvania, and the State of Georgia. They oppose this piece of legislation that is on the floor today. The same thing with the National Turkey Federation and the North American Meat Institute. All are in opposition to this bill that we are voting on today.

The American Farm Bureau Federation is not opposed publicly to the bill, but they have raised a litany of concerns and unanswered questions.

This bill comes with an additional price tag of $700 million, not offset, on many of the other provisions. Quite frankly, there are zero dollars for this duplicative poison pill part of this bill, the special investigator for cattle and pork. That leaves me concerned that the existing enforcement resources that I have already made reference to with USDA and the Department of Justice is going to be drained. We are actually probably going to see less effective investigations as a result of this.

We are going to see an increase in consolidation because it is a new layer. If you are a packer of any size, not just the four big ones, but medium and small size, and you have a new cop for cows on the beat, then you are going to have to add compliance staff to be able to prepare when, quite frankly, the Department of Justice and the Packers and Stockyards Division is already doing an incredible job. Active investigations are going on.

I agree with an earlier speaker, I think it was Mr. Lucas from Oklahoma, if there is evidence of price-fixing and collusion, we have a regulatory mechanism and a litigation mechanism. People should be held accountable to that.

Although there are some really good parts of this bill, I am also disappointed. We know that the only way we really get legislation through the other side of the Capitol, in the Senate, is where we show cohesion and where we stick together and work together. We have complete consensus on basically all the other aspects of this bill. We did request that this bill be divided and that the special investigator portion come out of the bill.

I think we could be scoring some victories for the American people and for the American farmers. But, quite frankly, I think to be in line with President Biden, because President Biden's approach to everything, all the problems that have been created with his ill-fated policies, is that it is somebody else's fault.

This is blaming the private sector, which works hard to provide us with the food that we need. This is blaming them when, quite frankly, it is a failure to take responsibility for what has happened on day one, starting with President Biden.

We would love to work with President Biden to make sure we can address inflation, but adding this $700 million today, I have never seen, in my lifetime anyway, or my experience, how you can spend more money and spend your way out of inflation. It just doesn't work that way. The economics do not work that way. The inflation issue, again, I have never seen inflation reduced by spending more money.

I would respectfully encourage, because we can go back to the drawing board and take each of these bills that are really good bills, the bipartisan and strong bills, we ought to take those up individually and give Congress an opportunity to speak on behalf of the American people and affirm that these are good bills. Let the special investigator stand on its own.

Mr. Speaker, I encourage a ``no'' vote on H.R. 7606, and I yield back the balance of my time.

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Mr. THOMPSON of Pennsylvania. Mr. Speaker, I claim the time in opposition to the amendment.

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Mr. THOMPSON of Pennsylvania. Mr. Speaker, I express my appreciation to the gentleman for bringing forth a concept that could provide relief, but not for many years.

This is an amendment to a bill that talks about immediate reduction in food prices, but this is kind of a long-term investment. I appreciate that concept, but it is not what this bill says. It really doesn't contribute to immediate relief to American consumers or reducing input costs for our farmers in the immediate or near term.

Working together is how the House Committee on Agriculture solves problems. The committee has been working together with the Department to better understand this amendment, its purpose, and its implications.

Mr. Speaker, the Department and I have agreed that this is not a near-term solution to the high price and limited availability of fertilizer.

As the gentleman knows, this amendment was pulled from consideration by my Democratic colleagues in a recent committee markup.

Unfortunately, we have not learned much since then, which furthers my opposition to it. Growing the size of government by codifying the Biden administration's half-baked initiatives, authorizing $100 million, specifying further use of the Commodity Credit Corporation, and minimally funded research programs is no way to tackle rising inflation or to address skyrocketing fertilizer costs. In fact, it leaves us in a rather more tenuous situation when it comes to our farmers.

The Commodity Credit Corporation is what we use and what we depend on and rely on when our farmers fall on difficult times. And they are there, these input costs.

Not in all commodities but in most commodities, we see a record price that they are getting for their commodity. But the fact is that agriculture is a business. Farming is a business. Ranching is a business. At the end of the day, it is the margin. It is not what you get paid. You have to consider what you are paying in input costs.

With this inflation, with these types of policies we are talking about today, there will be many commodities that soon will be upside down. They will be more expensive to produce than what they are able to get for price. There are commodities that are already at that point.

Draining the CCC in any year, in 2022, is not only wrong; it is dangerous. We are not going to have the resources to be able to help our farmers to keep them farming and to use the CCC for what its primary purpose and mission was about.

Even more perplexing is the idea we would want to solidify in law concepts that USDA admittedly has not developed into programming or policy, as the public comment period was just extended yet again.

Now, we would have been better served by considering Republican amendments, all of which would have provided immediate relief through reversing the regulatory assault stifling the innovation and exacerbating strained supply chains.

Mr. Speaker, I ask my colleagues to join me in opposing this amendment.

The gentleman offered an amendment. He is a good friend. We do work together. Another area of jurisdiction on the Agriculture Committee that shocks people, actually, is cryptocurrency because it is a commodity and traded and overseen by CFTC. He has been such a great partner as we have worked together with those solutions.

The whole concept of bipartisan work, it is alive and well in the Agriculture Committee, but just not reflected with this poison pill that is in this particular piece of legislation.

With this amendment, I think, as I said before, yes, we need to be looking long term. But this legislation we are dealing with today, according to the Democrats, is supposed to have an immediate reduction in inflation.

While I believe we do need to do an investment long term and look at other methods of producing fertilizer, this doesn't really fit with reducing prices for American families today. To do it and do it right, we really do need USDA on board. We need to have their input. We need to have their ability to do this through their programming.

This is something I look forward to continuing to work on with the gentleman. I continue to voice my opposition to this amendment.

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Mr. THOMPSON of Pennsylvania. Mr. Speaker, I rise in opposition to the amendment.

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Mr. THOMPSON of Pennsylvania. Mr. Speaker, I express my appreciation to the gentlewoman from Virginia for bringing forth an idea, and I do wish the same courtesy had been extended to my Republican colleagues who were denied the opportunity to bring their amendments forward for debate.

Working together is how the House Committee on Agriculture solves problems, and the committee has been working together with the Department to better understand this amendment, its purpose, and its implications.

As the gentlewoman knows, this amendment was pulled from consideration by my Democrat colleagues in a recent committee markup. Unfortunately, we have not learned much since then, which furthers my opposition to it being considered prematurely on the floor today.

I cannot support this amendment as written, an amendment that falls short of its advertised goals, and does not offer any immediate relief to farmers, ranchers, or consumers, because that is the myth that my Democrat friends are trying to sell with the overall bill today, which will not happen. In fact, I am afraid inflationary costs, more concentration, are going to occur as a result of a specific part of the package.

Growing the size of government by codifying the Biden administration's half-baked initiatives is no way to tackle rising inflation or address rising fuel and fertilizer costs.

Even more perplexing is the idea that we would want to solidify in law concepts that USDA admittedly has not developed into programming or policy.

Now, we would have been better served by considering Republican amendments, all of which would have provided immediate relief through reversing the regulatory assault stifling innovation and exacerbating strained supply chains.

Mr. Speaker, I ask my colleagues to join me in opposing this amendment.

Mr. Speaker, to reiterate, in my comments, I said it was premature, and I do believe it is. I think that this is a concept that the gentlewoman is pursuing that is worthy of consideration, worthy of development and full development so that we can have an appropriate consideration of the text of this particular amendment.

I also think it is out of place with this particular bill because the context, the pretext that my Democratic friends are presenting here, is a false promise that whatever would pass, and if this would somehow find a pathway through the Senate and be implemented, that it would immediately lower food and fuel costs. That is just not the case.

This is more of a long-term vision. I appreciate that because I think we should be looking long term when it comes to the needs of input costs for our farmers because, quite frankly, when we have inflation, when we have burdensome regulations, when we have an administration that is really out of control from a regulatory perspective, sidelining their scientists at the EPA--which, by the way, actually, part of those are funded under a public-private partnership with agribusinesses to make sure that farmers can have access to crop protection tools, significant crop protection tools that have been sidelined by this administration, when these same scientists have found them to be safe in application in the past.

What I would say is that I look forward to working with the gentlewoman in the future on this concept, but I continue to remain in opposition.

This is not quite ready for prime time, not ready for consideration. We need to be working more. We need more time working in a bipartisan way and, quite frankly, hearing from the administration as well and USDA.

Mr. Speaker, I continue to reserve the balance of my time.

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Mr. THOMPSON of Pennsylvania. Mr. Speaker, I continue to offer my opposition to this amendment, and I yield back the balance of my time.

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Mr. THOMPSON of Pennsylvania. Mr. Speaker, on that I demand the yeas and nays.

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