A group of 106 Georgia Farm Bureau county presidents, county board members and state directors met with the Georgia Congressional delegation during a trip to Washington D.C. recently, voicing the organization's concerns about the 2012 farm bill, permanent estate tax reform, free trade agreements, immigration reform and attempts by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to expand its regulatory reach.
"This is the most important meeting as far as national policy we have outside of our policy development meeting," said GFB President Zippy Duvall. "After we develop our policy, trying to get it implemented is the next stage of what we do. For our people to come and present our policies on the issues we're facing to our representatives — our congressmen and our senators — at this time of year is very important."
Georgia Senators Johnny Isakson and Saxby Chambliss spoke at a breakfast meeting with the GFB group, which also visited the offices of all 13 of the state's members of the House of Representatives.
American Farm Bureau Executive Director of Public Policy Mark Maslyn gave an outlook on Farm Bureau's key issues, and Mike Dwyer of the USDA's Foreign Agricultural Service discussed factors likely to affect ag trade in the coming years.
Difficult financial times
In addition to hearing Farm Bureau's priority issues, the congressmen warned of difficult financial times ahead as Congress grapples with the national debt. Chambliss said the U.S. is on on the way to financial collapse, a track similar to those experienced by Ireland, Greece and Portugal. Chambliss said those countries "are truly in dire financial straits. That's how important it is that we do something about this."
Multiple congressmen said the estate tax is unlikely to go away completely, but that the chances are good the current $5 million per person exemption with a top tax rate of 35 percent would be made permanent.
Rep. Lynn Westmoreland (R-3rd Dist.) said the federal approach to immigration reform would not change under the current administration. He said the borders need to be sealed and the identification process improved.
The GFB delegation presented Friend of Farm Bureau awards to Senators Chambliss and Isakson, Rep. Phil Gingrey, Rep. Jack Kingston, and Rep. John Barrow. This award, given by the American Farm Bureau Federation every two years at the end of each Congress, is based upon voting records on AFBF's priority issues established by the AFBF Board of Directors, number of bills that a member has sponsored and co-sponsored, specific leadership role for AFBF on its priority issues and how accessible and responsive that member is to Farm Bureau members and leaders.