A visit with Louisiana Rep. Ralph Abraham

A visit with Louisiana Rep. Ralph Abraham

A conversation with Louisiana Rep. Ralph Abraham. House agriculture Committee plans. Views on new farm bill, trade authority, Cuba.

Still getting used to new surroundings on Capitol Hill, Louisiana Rep. Ralph Abraham has been named to the House Agriculture Committee. Abraham says the Republican majority is keen to move on its agenda.

Abraham spoke with Delta Farm Press in late January. Among his comments:

On representing Louisiana’s Fifth Congressional District…

“Not only is it the largest district in Louisiana at 24 parishes, it’s also the largest row-crop district in the nation. Agriculturally speaking, it’s huge.

“That’s a large reason why I requested of Speaker Boehner that I be put on the (House) Agriculture Committee. He did that for me, as well as putting me on the Veteran’s Committee.

“Texas Rep. Mike Conaway is the chairman of the House Agriculture Committee. He’s a great, great guy and knows all the issues. I very much look forward to working with him.

“My son-in-law actively farms my property. I’ll make decisions with him on what is done. I’m basically in the trenches with the farmers figuring things out. Should we grow corn or soybeans this year? What’s cotton going to do?

“I’m asking the same questions farmers are asking daily. I want to be a good voice and advocate for my farmers whether they’re working row crops or timber or whatever they do.”  

On the committee’s first meeting of the year…

“We had a brief meeting (the week of January 19) mapping out what the plan is for the rest of the year. It went well.

“We came up with a kind of ‘to do’ list. What we’re going to do is implement, or include, strict oversight of the implementation of the 2014 farm bill.

“We’ll do an exhaustive review of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). I’m fortunate to be on the subcommittee overseeing that.

“We also must reauthorize the Commodity Futures Trade Commission.

“Those are the big ticket items that we’ll tackle right off the bat. We’ll have an introductory hearing with Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack invited to testify. We’ll also have a feature with the CFTC chairman.

“Many things are happening very quickly and I want to hit the ground running and not let up.”

On allowing President Obama trade authority…

“Texas Sen. John Cornyn has said the U.S. Trade Representative has put the Trans Pacific Partnership on a two-month trajectory. He tells us there’s a two month goal to produce something that we can actually take up in Congress.

“There really is no official timeline. But I can assure you with Rep. Conaway at the helm, he will push. He’s a man of action and few words. He doesn’t a lot of chit chat.

“I think we must have the TPP and it’s going to be a good thing. We simply must shore it up and make it more efficient. Like a lot of government programs there seems to be a lot of inefficiency and waste. Let’s trim some fat.”

Cuba

On Cuba trade…

“I certainly want that export market for our rice farmers.

“Iraq has kind of snubbed us lately as far as buying rice. They want to go to other markets and leave the United States out of the equation. (Fellow La. Rep. Charles Boustany) sent (Secretary of State) John Kerry a letter -- and I co-signed it -- saying how wrong it is on every front for Iraq to do this to us at this point. We’ll see where that goes with the Iraqi Rice Council. We must get that market back.

“As far as opening trade relations with Cuba? Well, Canada, China and European and South American nations are already trading with Cuba. We want to be part of that.

“Now, my preference -- and we’ll see what happens in Congress as we take it up in the next two to three months -- is to do it on a step-wise procedure. I’m not going to give away the house just to get a room, so to speak.

“They certainly have some human rights issues. The trade with other countries haven’t made any inroads or changed Cuba’s plight as far as the way they treat their people, unfortunately.

“And Cuba has given safe harbor to the woman who murdered the New Jersey policeman. They won’t give her back to us, although they have released 53 prisoners -- many of whom are now under house arrest.

“So, there are issues that must be addressed. Cuba wants us to give Gitmo to them. They’re asking to trade a pound for a penny. I want to trade a pound for a pound.

“This is doable, though. We must take it logically and bargain from a position of strength. But, yes, I do want trade with Cuba.”

On farm bill implementation…

“The farm bill is beginning to kick in. Like other government programs, it has stumps we’re going to stumble on. But talk to farmers in the Fifth District, I think they’re as happy as they can be with the new farm bill. They know it’s the law and they’re adjusting accordingly.

“There are things going on that really help our farmers. Unfortunately, (dipping fuel prices) hurt my oil and gas constituents. Those fuel costs will be a big deal for our farmers cost of production.”

 On the EPA…

“Anything lately that has EPA stamped on it hasn’t been good for any business -- especially for farmers. Under the Clean Waters Act the EPA now wants to regulate a puddle of water.

“We aren’t going to let that happen. The farmers understand they’ll be shut down if the EPA gets too much control. So, we’ll fight that tooth and nail.”

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