Forbes: Something Fishy, GOP Picks Bureaucracy Over Small Business?
By Kim Gorton
Ms. Gorton is the President and CEO of Slade Gorton, a Massachusetts based seafood company. She is third generation to run the company.
Since May, House leaders have tabled a Senate resolution that would end a wasteful and duplicative Agriculture Department program designed, on the surface, to regulate catfish. Beneath said surface, where such bottom dwellers often congregate, is a special interest-driven boondoggle that reveals a costly tale of misused tax dollars and protectionism. The program is a regulatory switcheroo that sees USDA take over catfish regulation from the Food and Drug Administration, which already inspects all seafood, and in the process erects a trade barrier to imported catfish competition. It’s a scam detailed in 10 separate Government Accountability Office reports.
Unfortunately Speaker Paul Ryan and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy appear to have slept through the catfish debate to the point of failure. They have received directives from both chambers on this issue: the Senate’s majority vote as well a recently submitted letter signed by 220 members of the House calling for the opportunity to bring this matter to the floor. In the face of clear political will, Ryan and McCarthy’s inaction repeats a message that I and American business owners have heard far too often from Congress: Sorry, lady, we’re busy.
Guess what? We’re busy too, powering the American economy and feeding people. As a mother, a CEO and Republican in Massachusetts, I have faced more than a few instances of stubborn insolence but this one adds nonsensical to the list of apropos descriptors.
Busy? Are Ryan and McCarthy too busy to repeal a program that forces seafood companies to face costly regulation from both FDA and USDA? Too busy to get rid of a program that threatens to eliminate almost 30% of the wholesome, affordable white fish supply in the U.S. and American jobs along with it? Too busy to protect the production of more than 1 billion reasonably priced meals for low to average-income Americans, at a time when the government itself is telling all Americans to eat more fish?
Ryan and McCarthy are too busy? Perhaps voters are too fed up to support them and the gridlock they campaign so fervently against but embrace when it’s politically expedient.
In an election year, vulnerable Republicans would show wisdom in eliminating an unneeded program that costs taxpayers $200 million over a decade. The GOP’s purported champions of responsible government can easily bring action and axe a regulation that embodies unhinged federal spending but its own leadership is standing in the way. The House has demonstrated that it has the votes to get rid of the program. Ryan and McCarthy have only need to do the math, or they can find out the hard way that delayed votes in the House and a full-on embrace of business as usual in Washington adds up to lost votes at the polls.
The ramifications of the USDA catfish program are far-reaching and will not stay a hometown embarrassment. Vietnam, the largest producer of the catfish species known as pangasius, exports hundreds of millions of pounds of the fish to the United States each year. Accounting for 2% of Vietnam’s Gross Domestic Product, foreign catfish will experience a total ban under USDA purview. Rather than undergo the USDA’s lengthy, unnecessary and byzantine import equivalency process, Vietnam will instead file suit with the World Trade Organization where they will win, according to the former Chief Judge of that body. In a letter to Speaker Ryan, the judge wrote that this case, “stands out for the egregiousness of its inconsistencies with WTO obligations.” Writing further that, “nothing good can result for the United States from applying the catfish measure.” The USDA program amounts to a trade barrier serving to protect only two southern catfish companies.
The Senate took a hard look at this program and saw wasted tax dollars and disadvantaged American businesses and did something about it, voting to get rid of it. They served that vote up to a willing House where a clear and bipartisan majority is asking to be allowed to do the same. But inexplicably, the leadership that should be standing up for taxpayers and business has chosen to listen to a special interest lobby that represents, of all things, catfish producers.
The tumult we see inside the Republican Party is beginning to make sense when we see House Leadership choose big government and bureaucracy over taxpayers and small businesses.