Sorting Out the Babble

By Tom Cook, President, National Renderers Association

When I get out of the Washington, DC, area, I am always asked, “What’s going on in Washington?” My answer is basically, “It is what you see in the papers and on television.”

With all the various means of communication like televisions, smart phones, blogs, cable, radio, and newspapers, we all have access to more news and opinions than we actually care about. It is sometimes difficult to sort out all of the babble.

I must say, though, in my opinion, there is a different atmosphere in Washington these days than in recent years. The Obama administration has caused many changes. Some are to be expected whenever you have a turnover, particularly when there is a political party change.

Most noticeable is the emphasis on new regulations and enforcement. The Environmental Protection Agency is leading the way with its new rule on reporting greenhouse gas emissions, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has a newly created deputy commissioner for food safety, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is looking to change current policy regarding E. coli follow-up sampling and inspection methods that industry believes is unnecessary and unsubstantiated. The current mindset in Washington is to solve all problems through regulation. The media is regularly reporting on new laws coming forth from an alphabet of agencies and commissions, like the FCC, SEC, CFTC, FEC, FDA, and so on.

It’s troubling that the current administration is not showing the commitment to trade as previous administrations. Yes, there are delegations going to various countries attempting to expand exports and open new markets. For example, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack recently went to Japan. High on his list was to further open that market for beef, especially from animals over 20 months of age, yet he was met with a cold rejection. And on another trade matter, we are getting nowhere on the trucking dispute with Mexico.

In his State of the Union speech earlier this year, President Barack Obama set a goal of doubling exports over the next five years, a very laudable goal we can all support. But so far, we’ve not seen a plan to accomplish this. There are three major free trade agreements with Columbia, Panama, and South Korea that were negotiated by the previous administration, yet they have not been ratified by Congress. This administration has had 15 months to tweak them to their liking, but has not sent them to Congress for review and ratification. The truth of the matter is that the current Congress will likely never approve any free trade agreement because the mood and politics are against it. The administration knows this, but that shouldn’t stop them from taking a position on free trade agreements.

The administration has been very helpful in trying to solve current trade disagreements. The USDA is working with the National Renderers Association (NRA) on a number of health-related issues with various trading partners. NRA has very good relations with the USDA and U.S. Special Trade Representative offices with our day-to-day issues. However, I believe we need greater expression from the president on a commitment for trade.

Industry Lobbyists
One of my biggest gripes from this administration is their demagoguery about lobbyists. It appears to make good political fodder to denigrate and accuse lobbyists for just about everything that is wrong with government.

The truth of the matter is that, in some form or another, we all are represented by lobbyists. I can’t think of a single profession or industry that isn’t represented by lobbyists. If you belong to a trade association, professional society, union, school board, church, county commission, or whatever, you are likely being represented in Washington or your state capitol by someone lobbying on your behalf.

Yes, there are some bad apples in the lobbying profession that can spoil and harm everyone’s reputation. This is not unique to just this profession. But, I contend the bad apples are few. Most lobbyists work hard to make an honest representation to government officials on behalf of the clients they represent. They know that the only thing they have to sell is their honesty and integrity. If they are found to be lying or misleading to those they are trying to influence, their credibility is destroyed.

The truth is many government officials and politicians look to industry lobbyists for information to help them make their decisions. There are already significant laws and regulations overseeing lobbying practices and the industry is very transparent. There are Web sites where one can find out who lobbies for whom and how much they make.

Whether a lobbyist is good or bad is in the eye of the beholder. If the lobbyist makes a lot of money, or opposes your point of view, they are bad. If they are lobbying on behalf of your interests, they must be good.

Candidate and President-elect Obama declared often that no lobbyist would serve in his administration. Once he started making his appointments, he learned that the most qualified candidates might have been lobbyists. What did he do? He made exceptions for those he wanted in his administration.

But if this is political fodder to stir up the electorate, so be it.

From the Association – June 2010 RENDER | back