At the Washington Conference on Sept. 25, Rep. Jimmy Panetta, D-Calif. (left) and Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Ill. (right) share the stage with Robert Guenther, senior vice president of public policy for the United Fresh Produce Association. ( Tom Karst )

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Giving Washington attendees a rare glimpse of Capitol bipartisan rapport and friendship, Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Ill., and Rep. Jimmy Panetta, D-Calif., set the stage for the March on Capitol Hill fresh produce industry leaders.

For more than 50 minutes, the two lawmakers shared a stage Sept. 25 with Robert Guenther, senior vice president of public policy with the United Fresh Produce Association, trading friendly jibes and stressing the need for lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to compromise on issues like reforms to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and immigration policy.

Davis said Panetta has visited his district in the “feed trough of America” in Illinois, just as Davis has visited Panetta’s district in the “Salad Bowl of the World.” Those visits have contributed to their understanding of agricultural policies needed to that support farmers in both regions, they said.

“I’m proud to have him on the committee with me, even more proud to call him my friend,” Davis said.

Panetta returned the respect.

“We may have our differences,” Panetta said. “But we find our similarities, and this is what gives me hope, not just about the agriculture committee, not just about the farm bill, not just about the future of our agriculture — but the future of Congress.”

The lawmakers said the farm bill, which expires Sept. 30, may not get done until later in the year.

“I think we’ll have an extension and hopefully after the election we will able to come back and get it done,” Panetta said.

Differences in SNAP provisions in the House and Senate farm bills have been cited as one major sticking point, but Davis believes there can be compromise.

“Jimmy and I have different opinions on SNAP, but Jimmy and I can find a sweet spot on getting education and training benefits to families who need help getting out of poverty,” Davis said. “We need a good discussion to find out where the sweet spot is, because we want to make sure people who are hungry get the food that they need to sustain themselves and be able to get good food that is going to provide them the nutrition that they need and that their families need.”

On immigration reform, Davis said it is important for the industry to keep engaged with the issue.

“We were going through and trying to find a sweet spot on immigration and we ended up getting “no-no-no-no-no,” he said, urging industry leaders to remain engaged in the debate over solutions in order to preserve leverage in any final compromise.

Panetta also urged attendees to keep immigration at the forefront and not lose focus on what is important to the industry.

Both lawmakers stressed the need for specialty crop research, including efforts to create labor saving technology for growers.

On trade and the effect of retaliatory tariffs on agriculture, Panetta said he and Rep. Mike Gallagher, R-Wis., have introduced legislation that would require the president to submit to Congress any proposal to adjust import tariffs in the interest of national security under Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962.

“What our bill says is that (the president) has to come to Congress each time he invokes Section 232 — (the president) has to come to Congress and explain exactly what the national security threat is,” Panetta said.

Davis urged attendees to stress the need for bipartisan cooperation when they talk to lawmakers.

“We can have our differences on policy, but it’s not going to stop Jimmy and I from slapping each other on the back afterwards and going to get a beer together,” Davis said. “That’s what DC needs to be more about, and I hope that’s a message that you guys send when you storm the Hill.”

 

 
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