Inside D.C.

Animal Rights Groups Looking for Wins, Eyeing 2018 Farm Bill

After the November, 2016, general election when Donald Trump was elected president and Republicans retained control of Congress, those who fret over the possibility of animal rights-inspired legislation and/or regulation heaved a collective sigh of relief.   Surely, they thought, such a “conservative” political sweep meant no activist-inspired silliness would see the light of day for at least the next four years.

However, it should come as no surprise that naiveté and operating with bad information is not exclusive to either political party.  And when it comes to the emotion of the animal issue, other philosophies take a back seat to that which is warm and fuzzy, or at least perceived as such by the member’s family and the voters back home.

This brings us to the House Congressional Animal Protection Caucus (CAPC), formed in February, 2009, to replace the Friends of Animals Caucus, created and embraced by the Humane Society of the U.S. (HSUS), the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) and the Animal Welfare Institute (AWI), among others.  I can’t find a CAPC membership roster for the 115th Congress, but the last estimate I read was that the caucus enjoyed between 85-100 members, about 20% of whom are Republicans.  The co-chairs of the CAPC this year are Rep. Vern Buchanan (R, FL), the 2016 HSUS “Legislator of the Year,” and Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D, OR).  There is no Senate caucus counterpart.

Caucuses generally have no power per se; most don’t hold meetings.  They’re collective rosters of members who wish be seen in the context of the caucus’s goals and philosophy.  There are several pro-agriculture caucuses.  There are caucuses built around finding cures for various diseases.  Heck, there’s a “Friends of Wales” caucus.  The largest caucus is the Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus, with hundreds of members, a sweet budget and pro-hunting as part of its agenda.

I bring this up because there’s been a lot of chatter recently about how best to move “animal bills” through the legislative process.  There’s a lot of talk by those who care about the “bipartisan nature” of animal welfare/right bills, and how animal issues “are unifying issues on Capitol Hill.” I’ve never known an animal rights bill to “unify” Capitol Hill.

Bills being pushed today by the animal rights movement include the Preventing Animal Cruelty & Torture Act (PACT Act) to make it a federal crime to commit “malicious cruelty” to an animal on federal property or “otherwise in interstate commerce;” recriminalizing horse “soring;” restricting the use of antibiotics in animal agriculture; making horse slaughter illegal, along with the exporting horses to Mexico or Canada where the practice is government regulated; requiring research institutions to “adopt out” dogs and cats used in biomedical protocols; making the sale of dog and/or cat meat illegal in the U.S.; making so called “crush” fetish videos illegal (already a federal crime), and on and on.

There’s a nascent movement to get agriculture committee leadership, at least in the House, to agree to wrap several animal bills into the 2018 Farm Bill.  If I recall correctly, when the 2008 Farm Bill was under construction, several animal rights groups pushed unsuccessfully for an entire title or section of the bill dealing with animal welfare/rights issues.  The 2014 Farm Bill carried language reiterating it’s federally illegal to take a minor child to an illegal animal fight, and that’s cited as precedent for including multiple animal bills in the coming Farm Bill.

More concerning is the notion held by some that House leadership should set aside a full day of House floor time to debate and vote on animal bills.  In a chamber criticized for an abbreviated work week already, and wrestling with health care, tax reform, infrastructure, immigration, and trade issues, sucking up precious floor time to debate animal bills defies credulity.

Many of the bills cited are political posturing by animal rights groups as most of the practices they seek to make illegal are already against the law.  These bills are used as bargaining chips as other legislation develops, e.g. “If you take our dog meat/horse slaughter/crush video – pick your favorite animal rights issue – language, we won’t oppose your XYZ language.”  At the same time, having had no major congressional victories for years, the animal rights movement needs “wins” to take back to their boards of directors and to show the check-writing faithful their money has not been wasted.

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