WASHINGTON, Feb. 2, 2017 - Farmers are already letting senators know that they will be counting on them to support Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch. 

“Any senator voting against a legal scholar like Gorsuch will have to produce a serious justification for a ‘no’ vote,” says Zippy Duvall, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation. “America’s farmers and ranchers will be watching closely.”

Gorsuch appeals to the Farm Bureau in part because he argues that the court should revisit a 1984 opinion that requires courts to defer to federal agencies when it comes to interpreting laws. 

Farmers have a history of butting heads with agencies like the EPA over government regulations and Gorsuch has shown similar frustration over dense federal rules, says Duvall.

One Democratic senator farmers and ranchers will be keeping an eye on is Montana’s Jon Tester. He told reporters yesterday that he was keeping an open mind. 

Perdue meets with McConnell. Agriculture secretary nominee Sonny Perdue is spending the week on Capitol Hill visiting senators, and yesterday he met with Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. McConnell would no doubt welcome a noncontroversial nominee at this point, and there’s no sign so far that Perdue is going to have trouble getting confirmed. 

During a meeting yesterday with Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse, Perdue was joined by several of the state’s agriculture leaders, including Farm Bureau President Steve Nelson. Sasse said the discussion included the “unique interests of Midwest agriculture, the importance of trade and export markets, and Nebraska’s role in feeding a growing world.” 

And speaking of Perdue, the former Georgia governor got his second endorsement this week from a former Democratic Agriculture Secretary. Dan Glickman, who served under Bill Clinton, told a farm bill forum hosted by AGree yesterday that Perdue was a "good choice" for the job, but he said it was "disturbing" that Donald Trump took so long to announce his decision. 

Earlier this week, Tom Vilsack, who served under Barack Obama for eight years, backed Perdue as his successor. 

Perdue and McConnell
Another good day for Agriculture nominee Sonny Perdue. A meeting with Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell and another endorsement from a Democratic former secretary.

Conaway, Peterson look to defend farm bill baseline. Leaders of the House Agriculture Committee will be using the latest cost estimates for farm and nutrition programs to make the case that they shouldn’t take any further cuts. 

“We think we’ve got a great story to tell and we’ve got a dramatic drop in farm income that we’re going to be having as a backdrop to this conversation,” says committee Chairman Mike Conaway, R-Texas. 

The Congressional Budget Office last month slashed its cost estimate for crop insurance and for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. SNAP alone is expected to cost about $92 billion less than expected over the next 10 years. 

The committee’s ranking Democrat, Collin Peterson, says the spending limit for the new farm bill should be only “driven by what’s needed" to meet the needs of agriculture.

The committee yesterday released an 11-page oversight plan that covers the gamut of farm bill programs and other issues under its jurisdiction, including the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. Besides writing a farm bill, the committee also will need to reauthorize a pesticide registration law that is set to expire. 

Skepticism in D.C. about 2018 farm bill. About 100 people who are interested in farm policy showed up yesterday at a forum hosted by the agricultural think tank AGree and got to register their thoughts on agriculture as well as to hear from a handful of experts on ag policy. 

Just over two-thirds, or 68 percent, of the audience doesn’t expect a farm bill to be finished until 2019; and 65 percent think the final version will be below the projected budget baseline, meaning they expect some spending cuts. The current farm bill expires in the fall of 2018.

Finally, the audience was asked to provide one or two words that best describe the U.S. food and agriculture system. The most popular answer: Unsustainable.

Industry groups demand USDA delay GIPSA rule. Livestock groups opposed to the rule that the Obama administration issued in December on industry marketing practices are frustrated that USDA has yet to formally delay its effective date. 

Organizations representing beef, pork and poultry producers sent a letter to the Grain, Inspection Packers and Stockyards Administration pressing it to comply with a White House order requiring the delay of all new rules that hadn’t taken effect when President Trump took office. 

A USDA spokesman had no immediate comment yesterday on the matter. The rule sets standards of proof for livestock and poultry producers who believe they have been harmed by processors' business practices. 

Hatch questions border tax. House Republicans have yet to win over a key Senate chairman to a critical part of their tax reform plan – applying corporate taxes on the cost of imported products. That import tax, known as a border adjustment, would be a huge revenue raiser, but there is concern that it could a have meaningful impact on consumer prices, including the cost of tomatoes and other produce imported from Mexico. 

Senate Finance Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, hasn’t taken a position on the issue. But he told the U.S. Chamber of Commerce yesterday that he’s got three big questions about it, including whether it’s legal under WTO rules. He’s also concerned that it could hurt consumers and unfairly hit some industries harder than others. 

“The fact is, it’s too early for me to have a definitive position on this issue,” he said. 

Another big concern for Hatch: He expects little Democratic support for tax reform, which means he can’t afford to lose GOP votes over an import tax.

The tax would pay for slashing personal and corporate tax rates as well as repealing the estate tax and providing new tax breaks, including full, immediate expensing of capital investments, a potentially significant benefit for agriculture. 

Bill Tomson, Daniel Enoch and Spencer Chase contributed to this report.