Aug. 23, 2014 SIGN IN | REGISTER

Caucuses Sprout for Special Issues

If you want to know what’s on the agenda of the House Frozen Food Caucus, the best place to ask might be the American Frozen Food Institute, the trade association with the similar moniker.

Indeed, in 2003, the trade group claimed credit for creating the Congressional caucus as part of its apparatus to “effectively represent frozen food companies’ interests on Capitol Hill.”

The bevy of Congressional caucuses have long been a punch line for commentators — why, after all, does America need a House Adopt a Country Caucus or a bicameral, bipartisan Congressional Songwriter’s Caucus? But the caucuses must be providing a benefit to somebody, because they are proliferating at a remarkable rate.

According to Congressional Research Service reports, the number of caucuses in Congress rose from about 185 in 1999 to just more than 400 at the end of last year.

Caucuses provide an easy opportunity for a Member of Congress to indicate concern about an issue that is important to constituents, even if the Member does not have direct jurisdiction through a seat on the appropriate committees. For example, Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) does not sit on an aerospace committee, but he co-chairs the House Aerospace Caucus to advocate for NASA’s Glenn Research Center, a key economic interest for his Cleveland district.

But in some cases, a caucus serves as the “inside Congress” lobbying wing of an outside advocacy effort.

For example: The AFFI in 2003 said it had “commissioned a renowned scientist to author a white paper on the food safety benefits of the freezing process.” (AFFI now maintains that it promoted but did not fund the research.) The research paper was published in January 2004 in the International Journal of Food Microbiology. Four months later, the co-chairmen of the Frozen Food Caucus, Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) and then-Rep. Butch Otter (R-Idaho), sent a letter to the Agriculture Department and the Food and Drug Administration advocating additional research into the use of freezing technology, citing the microbiology journal article.

Last year Peterson and his new co-chairman, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), sent a letter to appropriators supporting what the industry publication Frozen Food Digest called “AFFI’s language” to increase funding for frozen food research. The 2006 agriculture appropriations bill included language directing the USDA to support the research.

The industry’s relationship with the caucus is so snug that Peterson, when he became the co-chairman in 2004, issued a press release saying he was “honored by the invitation from The American Frozen Food Institute (AFFI) to serve as co-chairman for the Frozen Food Caucus.”

The caucus also serves as the industry’s entree into the halls of Congress itself. The caucus chairmen serve as honorary hosts for a more-or-less annual event called the Frozen Food Filibuster inside a Congressional office building, where AFFI member companies cook up samples of their products and mingle with Members, staffers and anyone else drawn by the scent of free grub.

Under new House lobbying rules, the Frozen Food Filibuster still would be allowed, because it is a “widely attended event,” with AFFI members from a variety of companies arriving from around the country to serve their foods, and an open-door feeding policy.

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