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Cattle Q&A with Bill Donald

Progressive Cattleman Editor David Cooper Published on 17 August 2010

cattle_q_aBill Donald is a commercial cattleman with a cow-calf and yearling operation in Melville, Montana, and president-elect for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association. In January 2011, he begins a one-year term as president.

He spoke with Progressive Cattleman Editor David Cooper about the major political issues NCBA has lobbied for in Washington, D.C., and what its biggest priorities will be headed into the 2010 elections.

Why was the Murkowski amendment so critical for the NCBA position on climate change, and what’s the status of that now?
The intent of that was to have the Senate show their disapproval for EPA Administrator (Lisa) Jackson’s decision to make CO2 a declared pollutant. It was voted down so that measure is now dead. We’ll have to approach it thru a different legislative stamp. That way we’ll have to get together with people across the aisle, so that naturally occurring gases are no longer considered a pollutant. The question is: How do we reach some resolution? Right now we think we’ll wait until next year when we have a better political climate to work on this issue.

In describing the Clean Water Restoration Act, you called it a “huge grab for power” by the federal government. Why describe it in those terms?
It is such a great expansion of the federal government’s ability to regulate all waters across the U.S. Heretofore they’ve been restricted to waters that are navigable. This act will give the federal government the ability to exercise more authority over more water than they do now. That’s why I use such terms. Any lagoon, any borrow ditch, any water at all would be subject to their purview.

How informed are ag groups for how broad that power that may be?
I think the cattlemen are aware of it. As far as the rest of ag, I can’t speak to that, but I know that most state cattle organizations have that on their radar, either through their members who have brought that information to them, or they have already heard it. I think it’s pretty widespread.

Given the current political climate, how likely is it that Congress could really pass new regulations on individual personal property?
That’s our hope that we can stick with status quo, that the navigable waters are covered under the law. Here again it’s a matter of whether we can put this off until the next legislative session when our interests are better served. In this case, we’re just playing defense, that’s kind of the tactic again.

Explain again why 2010 is such a critical year for the death tax debate.

Because in 2010, this current year, there is no estate tax, it is at 0. That is part of the 2001 tax package that was phased out in 10 years. In 2011 it goes back to the same limits and exclusions it had in 2001: Assets worth over $1 million per person are taxed at 55 percent. So that’s why timing is so critical.

How close are NCBA and other ag groups to making changes on this issue?
We are actually going to have to get some movement from Congress to see any motion to it. Senator Max Baucus, (D-Mont.) who is chairman of Senate Finance Committee, and some other congressmen and senators, are working on legislation that would place the limits, the exclusions and tax rate at 2009 levels. Exclusions for 2009 are $3.5 million per person or $7 million per couple, with a tax rate at 35 percent above that. Congressman (Mike) Thompson of California offered an amendment for ag lands staying in production in the family that would exclude those parcels from the estate tax. That is something that has some bipartisan support. Congressman Thompson is a Democrat, and we’re looking at support from Sen. Feinstein from California. That would really relieve some of the pressures that require a farm to be dispersed at the time of death for the senior landholder of the family.

What are NCBA’s big concerns with the newly proposed USDA rules on livestock marketing?
I think the biggest concerns we have are how far-reaching will it be toward the various types of alternative marketing agreements in industry. Will they be declared illegal or not? Many cattlemen worked out agreements with packers so they can raise cattle for a certain product. Our other concern is the packing sector impact it will have on small and medium packers. If it has the same restrictions on them as it has on the big four, some will be forced out of business.

On national monuments, what portions of the Antiquities Act can be changed after it’s been on the books for 100 years?
It wasn’t until lately that the Antiquities Act was used for these large portions of land. What we’re looking at is more definition on portions to ensure it’s not just used on taking lands out of production or restricting land with one stroke of the pen. Those lands should be dealt with in an entirely different fashion.  end_mark

Bill Donald  

Bill Donald

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