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John Block: What’s going on in Washington

By former USDA Secretary John R. Block

For most farmers across the U.S. there is a big sigh of relief. The harvest is over. Time to sit back and relax. Well, there is no time for relaxation here in the Nation’s Capital. This has been a very busy week.

On Friday, December 1, I hosted the annual Cabinet Secretaries luncheon at the Blair House. It is a great social occasion to bring Cabinet Members from both parties together. I will report more on the luncheon around the holidays.

This past Monday the National Grange held its 150 year anniversary dinner. For 150 years, the Grange has been working to help and support rural America. Two of their highest priorities this year are to help pass tax reform and expand internet coverage for rural America.

Yes – there are some celebrations going on, but the Congress has a full plate of work to do. This weekend, the Federal Government will shut down unless the Congress passes legislation to provide funding.

Both parties want to keep the government open for business. However, there are big differences of opinion on how much money would we provide for defense. How long should the agreement fund the government? Why not include in the bill language the ability to let the illegal dreamers stay in the U.S.?  This whole fight may be over and settled by the time you hear this commentary, but I doubt it. There is a very good chance that government funding will only be extended for a week or two in December and then negotiations will began again.

Besides the risk of shutting down the government, Congress has a big tax bill that needs to be conferenced. The House and Senate have both passed massive tax cuts and tax reform bills. Now, the two bills need to be reconciled. Then, those reconciled bill needs to be passed by both the House and Senate, and signed by President Trump. Although the House and Senate bills differ in some significant ways, they are still close enough that when all is said and done, I predict we will have new tax laws.

American Farm Bureau President Zippy Duvall said the legislation will be a boom for farmers; I agree. I am cheering now, and next week I will talk about President Trump’s effort to reduce the acres of public lands protected by national monuments.

John Block was Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture from 1981-1985, where he played a key role in the development of the 1985 Farm Bill.  If you would like to review his radio shows going back more than 20 years, visit

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