NATIONAL HARBOR, MD. – Political currents are running Republican red for November elections.

"Most are predicting the House will go Republican," said Randy Russell, partner with Russell & Barron, Inc., and legislative counsel to Washington. D.C.-based United Fresh Produce Association.

Political fortunes favor GOP, WPPC attendees told

Tom Karst

Randy Russell (left), partner with Russell & Barron, Inc., and legislative counsel to the United Fresh Produce Association, and David Gombas, senior vice president of food safety and technology for the United Fresh Produce Association, speak at a Sept. 15 at a luncheon general session at the 2010 Washington Public Policy Conference.

United Fresh president Tom Stenzel moderated a Sept. 15 panel at the United Fresh Washington Public Policy Conference that included Russell, David Gombas, senior vice president of food safety and technology for the United Fresh Produce Association, Robert Guenther, senior vice president of public policy for United Fresh and Lorelei DiSogra, vice president of nutrition and health for United Fresh.

The tide is turning for Republicans at both the state and federal level, Russell said. With 37 races for governor to be decided Nov. 2, he said Republicans could pick as many as eight governorships. Currently there are 26 Democratic governors and 24 Republican governors, he said. However, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Ohio, Iowa, Michigan and Wisconsin are among the states now leaning Republican for November contests. That's a big sea change from two years ago," Russell said.

In the U.S. Senate, Republicans need to pick up 10 seats to seize control but so far it appears they may pick up seven or eight seats. While the margin will be narrower, Russell said it appears Democrats will retain control.

Political fortunes favor GOP, WPPC attendees told

Despite what Russell called a "surly" political climate, Guenther told the WPPC attendees that United Fresh was looking to influence Congress to act on food safety legislation and child nutrition reauthorization before November.

Other key issues United Fresh was working include the push for immigration reform, opposing card check legislation and encouraging lawmakers to push the Obama administration to solve the North American Free Trade Agreement truck access dispute with Mexico.

The closely watched Senate food safety bill is facing a tight legislative calendar that leaves lawmakers no time for debate, Guenther said. "We haven't had significant food safety reform in 70 years and (it) may get two hours of debate," he said. What's more, Guenther said the efforts to include small farm exemptions and a phase-out of BPA in food packaging are sticking points to passage.

Russell said exempting smaller producers from food safety requirements would put the country at risk for food safety outbreaks that can't be traced.

Meanwhile, DiSogra said that the House of Representatives may only have about ten legislative days to pass child nutrition reauthorization, which must be approved by Sept. 30.

"We understand from the Speaker's office that this is one of three priorities for the House to finish before they leave at the end of September," DiSogra said.

"We don't want a one year extension or a bill passed in the lame duck session, we want the House to finish child nutrition by Sept. 30," she added.

Considering the House child nutrition reauthorization bill has not identified offsets to pay for increased funding, DiSogra said it appears the House may have to pass the Senate bill for the legislation to be passed by Sept. 30.

"The bottom line is that the House bill is $9 or $10 billion over baseline and given the short legislative calendar, the House needs to come to the realization that they have to take the Senate bill or else there is no glide path to get to a bill," Russell said.

Relative to food safety regulation, Gombas said FDA is in the midst of developing new rulemaking for Good Manufacturing Practices for fresh cut facilities and a proposed rule for produce safety. "The FDA is waiting to see what Congress is going to tell them to do," Gombas said. Even if a food safety bill doesn't pass this year, he said the FDA will likely issue both regulations next year.