Ag secretary says House needs to take up farm bill now
By Jean Caspers-Simmet
Date Modified: 08/13/2012 1:09 PM
AMES, Iowa — With drought conditions intensifying in Iowa and across the country, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said USDA's tools to assist farmers are limited.
"What really has to happen is that the House of Representatives has to have a vote on the food, farm and jobs bill as soon as possible," Vilsack said during a speech last week at the Iowa Farm Bureau Economic Summit.
Action on the bill could revive the disaster programs for livestock producers, which expired on Sept. 30, 2011.The Senate has passed its version of the bill. The House Agriculture Committee passed its version and now the bill awaits action on the House floor, Vislack said.
He has been told there may not be time in the House calendar to get the farm bill completed before Congress leaves for its summer recess.
"Folks, seriously, there is nothing more important to suffering crop and livestock producers than a farm bill that provides help and assistance and certainty about what the programs are," Vilsack said.
Vilsack said that two weeks ago the House of Representatives left a day early "because they didn't have enough to do."
"There is no excuse for not getting the farm bill on the board, up and passed," Vilsack said. "Congress is about ready to enter a five-week recess. That would be akin to someone saying to you in middle of harvest, 'I know there's work to be done, but take a few weeks off. The crop will still be there when you get back.' That's not how you do things. You get your work done."
Discussion is going on about crafting disaster assistance apart from the farm bill.
The current farm bill expires on Sept. 30, and current farm programs will end.
"Some people say to just extend it, but extension of the existing bill will not resurrect disaster programs," Vilsack said. "There has to be affirmative action by Congress to bring disaster programs back because Congress didn't fully fund them for the length of farm bill."
The House committee and Senate farm bills extend disaster programs and make funding retroactive to 2012.
"If you delay action on the farm bill and take it past the election, it gets caught up in deficit reduction and tax policy," Vilsack said. "Those looking for ways to finance their tax breaks or eliminate cuts in defense or some human services department, what do you think they'll do? They'll look for where think they can find money."
Agriculture has already taken its share of cuts, Vilsack said.
"We gave up $6 billion when we reformatted crop insurance,'' he said. "The USDA budget has been reduced and flat-lined for an extended period of time. The farm bill discussions involve reductions somewhere between $23 and $34 billion. We're doing our part."