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John Block: What Did We Get Done In 2015?

By former USDA Secretary John R. Block

The U.S. Congress didn’t get much done this year until December. Agriculture had a long wish list that just sat on the table. But surprise!  We came out better than I thought we would.

First, the Congress passed a five-year, $305 billion dollar transportation bill. Our roads and bridges needed that desperately. Recent bills have been for only one year and this is five. I had hoped they would use an increase in the fuel tax to help fund it, but they did find the money.

Another problem that has been a constant battle since 2002 when it was enacted is Country of Origin Labeling (COOL). The Congress repealed it. At least the labeling requirements for beef and pork are gone. Chicken is still in place, but that’s not in conflict. The tariffs that were authorized before the repeal would have cost us billions in agricultural exports.  Senator Pat Roberts had this to say: “American farmers, ranchers, and small businesses will finally get the certainty they deserve.”

Finally, real money can now be counted on with the permanent authorization of Section 179 that will allow farms and small businesses to expense up to $500,000 when they buy that new tractor, combine, etc.

Not to overlook another important issue. The Administration has settled on a renewable fuel standard (RFS) that doesn’t make big oil or the corn industry happy. But at least we now may have some certainty.

Not to get too excited – there are some very serious issues that are not fixed. Heading that list is the GE food labeling battle. With Vermont and other states lining up to impose state labeling laws, Congress must act and require uniformity. We can’t have 50 state laws dictating different labeling requirements.

The Administration still has not announced the Dietary Guidelines. Thanks to the Congress, they have directed that the Administration can not use environmental factors in the Guidelines. By law, they are supposed to be “dietary guidelines.”

In closing, let’s be grateful – the government did not shut down. We have money to operate next year.

I wish all of you a Merry Christmas.

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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