Vilsack: Delaying farm bill would hurt rural U.S.
In an interview with USA Today, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said that delay in passing a farm bill this year could hurt economic growth in rural America.
"If it does not get done then we are left without programs to support farmers and ranchers, and we create a great deal of uncertainty, which no doubt will impact and effect decisions throughout the supply chain that will compromise the enormous progress we've seen recently," Vilsack said."Why would you not want to get this done when things are going as well as they are going?"
The newspaper noted that the farm economy is enjoying high crop prices and record exports, which led to record income in 2011. In addition, land prices are high and there is a record amount of conservation activity in rural America.
Last week the Senate Agriculture Committee approved a version of the 2012 Farm Bill that would cut spending by $25 billion during the next decade, slashing subsidy payments in favor of new crop insurance programs. Most U.S. farm groups were supportive of the legislation even though they found areas that could be improved, USA Today reported:
The House has floated more aggressive cuts of as much as $33 billion, including a larger reduction in spending for food stamps, but so far has not established a timetable for when it might act on the bill. Vilsack said he does not envy the challenges facing House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., who has to listen to Republican lawmakers who want significant cuts to farm programs.
"I think everybody in Congress recognizes the need to get the job done, and you've got to do it quickly," said Vilsack. When asked what would happen if the farm bill doesn't get passed before October, he said: "I don't want a backup plan. I don't want a plan 'b' because I want people to focus on plan 'a' and get it done."
Vilsack expressed concern over the "serious, serious depth of cuts" that are being floated in the House that could "irreparably harm" a host of farm programs ranging from conservation to nutrition. He pointed out that excessive cuts to programs such as food stamps, for example, could make their way down to the bottom line of farmers who collect about 16 cents of every dollar spent at the grocery store.
As for the Farm Bill proposal from the Senate Agriculture Committee, a blogger on the Drovers Cattle Network notes that there has been little to no discussion about the overall cost of the legislation.
“For all of the opposition to agricultural spending, it would seem like someone would hold up the Farm Bill and announce the cost of the bill. But that is not in the mindset of Congress at the moment. Instead, the proposal is being built on how much is not being spent. With everything in Washington keyed on budget reduction, the Farm Bill is not going to cost $500 billion over five years, or whatever the total might be. Instead, lawmakers are falling over themselves trying to effect savings,” Stu Ellis writes.
Ellis figures the cost of the legislation would be $995 billion over the course of the next 10 years.