WASHINGTON, Oct. 14, 2015 - All of Washington, and especially House Republicans, is awaiting word on whether Paul Ryan will agree to run for speaker. Republicans are in desperate need to put an end to their leadership turmoil when lawmakers return to work after this week’s recess, and Ryan appears to be the one person who could unite the caucus.

The official word from Ryan and his staff is that nothing has changed - he isn’t running for the job. Ryan said in Wisconsin Monday that he still isn’t running, and his spokesman posted on Twitter that he didn’t expect any news this week.

But it’s worth noting that Rep. Jim Jordan, the chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, a group of about 40 hard-line conservatives, has essentially given Ryan the green light. Jordan said on Fox News Sunday that his group would “look favorably” on Ryan.

Wisconsin Republican Reid Ribble, who dropped out of the Freedom Caucus last week because of its role in bringing down House Speaker John Boehner, says in an Open Mic interview with Agri-Pulse that the new speaker must “build bridges” across coalitions in the House as well as work with the Senate and White House. That sounds like a job description written for Ryan, given his experience negotiating the 2013 Ryan-Murray budget deal and, most recently, Trade Promotion Authority.

House Agriculture Chairman Mike Conaway, R-Texas, continues to mull a race for the speakership himself, but he told a group of Texas cotton growers Tuesday that Ryan would be the best person for the job. If Ryan doesn’t run, the Texas congressional delegation will continue discussions on an alternative, he said.

Ryan record: a mixed bag for agriculture

In Ryan, agriculture would have a speaker with a reputation as a pragmatist who could be open to immigration reform. He’s also a big supporter of trade, and will play a major role in shepherding the Trans-Pacific Partnership through Congress, whether as speaker or in his current role as chairman of the Ways and Means Committee.

On the other hand, when he was chairman of the House Budget Committee he proposed steep cuts in farm subsidies and crop insurance. To the frustration of the anti-hunger community, he also repeatedly proposed to turn food stamps into a block-grant program for states to run.

Ryan’s fiscal 2014 budget proposal said that “taxpayers should not finance payments (farm subsidies) for a business sector that is more than capable of thriving on its own. His fiscal 2015 plan was released after passage of the 2014 farm bill, which eliminated direct payments, but said that farm programs were still “ripe for reform.”

Immigration reform is dead for this Congress with the presidential race under way, but if Republicans retain control of the House, as expected, Ryan would be in a position as speaker to give the issue some new life in 2017.

Ryan has “never led the reform parade,” but his “interaction over the years with dairy, nursery, and Christmas tree constituents would suggest that he understands that the status quo isn’t serving our nation’s interest, and that improvements to the legal immigration system are a necessary and critical component that needs Congressional attention,” said Craig Regelbrugge, who is national co-chair of the Agriculture Coalition for Immigration Reform.

Frank Gasperini, executive vice president of the National Council of Agricultural Employers, said Ryan appears to be someone that agriculture can talk to even if it isn’t clear what his positions are.

Some anti-immigration activists have raised alarms about Ryan, but the criticism doesn’t seem to have turned off conservatives, given his possible Freedom Caucus support. The conservative web site Breitbart compiled a series of activist concerns about Ryan’s record on immigration. The director of the anti-immigration group Numbers USA, which gives Ryan a grade of D-minus for this Congress, called Ryan “terrifying” on the issue. 

As for farm programs, they’re probably not in any danger until the farm bill comes up for renewal in 2018. Even then, Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, believes the biggest threat to farm programs probably comes from fiscal conservatives in the House, not necessarily from the next speaker. “We would have to face” attacks on farm programs, “even if John Boehner was still there,” Grassley said.

David Graves, president of the American Association of Crop Insurers, says his industry has to keep making the case for crop insurance. “We have always been concerned about and focused on maintaining an effective financial safety net for production agriculture,” he said.


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