The incoming Trump team, along with leaders from the Republican majorities in the House and Senate, have signaled to the Obama team that they want to see new rulemaking actions frozen. This is a bit of a ritual during any transfer of partisan power in the nation’s capital, but this year the rhetoric is at a particularly high pitch.
But not all rulemakings are alike, and not all of them are associated with partisan thinking. Some efforts, long in process and richly vetted and scrutinized, not only have immense support from the American electorate, but also huge bipartisan support on Capitol Hill. There’s no better case example than the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s long-awaited and long-delayed plan to upgrade Horse Protection Act (HPA) regulations to end the barbaric and gratuitous practice of horse soring – the intentional infliction of pain on the legs and hooves of show Tennessee walking horses and related breeds, to force them to perform the artificial, pain-based “Big Lick” gait, all for the sake of a blue ribbon.
More than six years after the agency’s own Inspector General released a scathing audit that highlighted the gross inadequacy of current enforcement efforts (which rely heavily on failed industry self-policing), and more than six years after the USDA promised to implement new regulations to fix the problem, regulatory action is still pending.
In July, the USDA announced a proposed rule to end walking horse industry self-regulation and ban the use of the torture devices that are integral to the soring process – both key components of the widely supported Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act, S. 1121/H.R. 3268, which was introduced largely because the agency hadn’t acted on its own to fix these problems. The legislation is led by two veterinarians in the House, Reps. Ted Yoho, R-Fla., and Kurt Schrader, D-Ore., in the Senate by Sens. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., and Mark Warner, D-Va., and it is cosponsored by 50 Senators and 266 members of Congress. The public comment period on this rule closed on October 26th and there was an overwhelming outpouring of support, with well over 100,000 commenters (including actresses Priscilla Presley and Olivia Newton-John) urging the USDA to quickly implement this proposal. Former Sens. John Warner of Virginia, a Republican, and Joe Tydings of Maryland, a Democrat and the author of the original HPA, were among the many individuals and groups who voiced their strong support.
But perhaps the most compelling evidence of the breadth of support for this action is that 41 U.S. Senators and 182 Representatives – from both sides of the aisle – sent letters to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack urging that the agency swiftly adopt new HPA regulations before the end of the current administration.
None of us can predict how President Trump will address animal welfare in the first 100 days of his administration or beyond. But momentum is clearly behind this much-needed rule, and it’s been delayed for years. There’s no excuse for further dilly-dallying. It’s time to close the loop on an appalling abuse, and deal with people who are abusing horses in the name of entertainment and profit. The current administration must seize this moment to fix the USDA’s deeply-flawed regulations and adopt new regulations with real teeth in them that can finally bring about the reforms needed to end soring for good – as Congress intended when it passed the law in 1970. With more than 300 lawmakers cosponsoring a bill that goes well beyond the terms of the rule, there’s no reason for partisan politics to stymie this effort as we approach the finish line. More than four decades of this continued, poorly-regulated animal suffering is far too long, and President Obama and Agriculture Secretary Vilsack have a duty to end it, now.