I can almost hear a collective sigh of relief from the majority of Americans as this election comes down the final stretch run. Even the political junkies who love the intrigue, the money, the battle of ideas, the strategy and the urgency surrounding the electoral process are probably ready for the actual voting to take place.
Approaching the finish line, there seems to be less drama than normal. It’s possible that with some 11th hour news event, a gaffe by Obama, etc., that the results could turn McCain's way. However, the drama now seems to be simply whether Obama can capture states like Ohio and Florida and claim an overwhelming electoral win.
But the biggest impact from next week’s elections could be at the legislative level. Despite the fact the Democrat-controlled Congress has a lower approval rating (9%) than even President Bush, retirements and other factors could lead to the Democrats increasing their majorities in the House and Senate.
In a more narrow vein, neither presidential candidate has shown any significant interest in agriculture; the one major distinction being that Obama has been a proponent of continuing the subsidies, tariffs, quotas and mandates surrounding ethanol, and may actually increase them.
On the tax front, an Obama administration virtually ensures the end – at least for now – of the effort to repeal the death tax, while capital gains taxes are likely to increase significantly.
Things on the environmental front should heat up under either candidate, but more so with Obama. We can expect more attention and regulation in the areas of endangered species and environmental concerns, including dust, odor and greenhouse emissions.
The biggest focal point may be greenhouse emissions and carbon sequestering, an area in which ag may have a significant and profitable role to play in reducing carbon footprints. This shift of emphasis on the environment and climate change (“global warming” is no longer the proper term since the Earth starting cooling down) will likely contain a mixture of good and bad for ag, but will definitely have to be factored into one's planning.
Of course, the state of the overall economy will have a big impact on ag. Obama will inherit some significant financial problems with the cost of the economic bailout constraining his aggressive domestic agenda. That, along with the cost of the Iraq war, is expected to continue to fuel inflationary pressures.
Obama is expected to continue to largely ignore more drilling, clean coal and nuclear energy in favor of "greener" renewable fuel sources (electric, geo-thermal, wind, water, solar, biofuels). This means that, at least in the short term, we’ll continue to be highly dependent upon foreign sources, and the food vs. fuel debate will escalate even more.
Neither candidate has shown much inclination to address the impending collapses of the Medicare and Social Security systems, preferring to leave it to future generations. But both candidates have put forth major proposals in health care. Obama’s is a state-run system, while McCain’s would preserve elements of free-market competition.
In the end, however, Obama's reforms will be a difficult sale. Even if Democrats gain super majorities in both the House and Senate, health care remains a very contentious issue, with quality and cost being a tradeoff most people aren’t prepared to accept.
Trade will be another focus area. Obama claims he’s for free trade, but with labor and environmental considerations factored in. Yet, he’s been a sharp critic of trade agreements and a strong proponent of populist/protectionist policies regarding trade.
Whether the victor is Obama or McCain, we can expect significant departures from current policy in almost every area for livestock producers. Some of the impacts with be positive, some negative, some minor and some major.
At next week’s BEEF Quality Summit – Nov. 6-7 in Colorado Springs (visit beefconference.com) – the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association’s Burton Eller and Terry Stokes will be on hand for a firsthand post-election analysis and wrap-up from the U.S. beef industry perspective. I can't think of a more timely and pertinent discussion, as macro-policy issues have had a far more dramatic impact on ag the last several years than more typical supply and demand factors.
Depending on your perspective, it may be comforting or disheartening to keep in mind that historically U.S. presidents tend to drift to the center, enacting only a fraction of what they promised during the election. The next administration, however, could indeed be a watershed event, not only for agriculture but the country in general.