US Agriculture Secretary urges "reform-minded" farm bill

Wed Nov 14, 2012 7:41pm EST

Related Topics

* Reform is 'important component' for bill - USDA's Vilsack

* Deficit reduction top issue in lame-duck session

* Lobbyists say farm bill delay into 2013 is likely

* Food stamps are a target for conservatives

By Charles Abbott

WASHINGTON, Nov 14 (Reuters) - U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on Wednesday urged Congress to break a logjam and pass a reform-minded farm bill, but two lobbyists said the deadlocked $500 billion bill may not be enacted for months, or even a year.

Vilsack, who is expected to stay at USDA for at least the start of President Barack Obama's second term, told Reuters the department "would do everything we can" to implement a new farm bill in time for the 2013 harvest next fall.

With deficit reduction at the top of the agenda for lawmakers during a brief post-election session, Vilsack said "reform becomes a very important component" for the farm bill, already six weeks overdue.

Months ago Obama suggested $33 billion in agricultural cuts, and analysts say the best chance to pass a farm bill this year would be to use its budget cuts as part of an overall plan to reduce the federal deficit.

But they see little chance of a budget pact and say the farm bill is a minor issue for lawmakers to spend time on, compared to looming automatic budget cuts and tax increases.


Potential changes in agricultural committee assignments in Congress could also slow the path to a farm bill.

Written every few years, farm bills are panoramic legislation that range from production subsidies and soil conservation efforts to food aid, agricultural research and rural economic development. Food stamps account for three-quarters of the spending.

If the House debates the farm bill, Ohio Republican Jim Jordan said he would seek a vote to separate food stamps from the rest of the bill. The step would break a decades-old urban-rural coalition and could fit into a Republican plan to convert food stamps into a block grant to states.

The Senate passed its version of the farm bill in mid June but work on the bill stalled in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives in late July.

The House Agriculture Committee's bill would make the deepest cuts in food stamps in a generation, four times more than the Senate version.

Vilsack declined during an interview to suggest a limit on food stamp cuts, in favor of direct discussions with lawmakers.

"I am concerned there is a lack of clarity on the part of House Republican leadership on how much of a priority this is," he said. "Our role is to see the reforms that are enacted do not undercut the purpose of (food stamps) or any other program."

Against the odds, a final version of the bill could still materialize in the next few weeks, Vilsack said, adding, "This town works best when there is a deadline."

Some farm groups say Congress will extend the 2008 farm law, which expired on Oct 1, for as long as a year as a stop-gap.

It will be "incredibly difficult" to wrap up a bill in three or four weeks, said Ferd Hoefner of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition. He called for attention to issues such as disaster aid, that should not be overlooked in an extension.

Mary Kay Thatcher of the 6-million-member American Farm Bureau Federation, said that a one-year extension of the current bill was most likely, with a six-month extension possible too.

Mississippi Sen Thad Cochran could replace Pat Roberts of Kansas as the top Republican on the Senate Agriculture Committee, which could affect work on the farm bill if it is delayed into 2013.

Roberts took a lead on the Senate farm bill which would eliminate traditional crop subsidies. But southern Senators including Georgia's Saxby Chambliss said the plan was unfair to rice and peanut growers.

Debbie Stabenow, Michigan Democrat, is expected to return as the Senate Agriculture chairwoman. Frank Lucas, Oklahoma Republican, was expected to serve a second term as House Agriculture chairman.

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Comments (1)
PowerOfChoice wrote:
Any Farm Bill should only be for farmers to insure proper food supply for citizens and that the farmers have access to proper insurance the same as any other business. This bill should not contain legislative garbage such as broadband, energy, housing, etc. which gets thrown into the bill by legislators many times to scratch their campaign donors backs. Not only do we need to stop giving money to those who need it least, but other rural programs that are becoming corrupt and abusive and have violated citizen’s rights should be eliminated.

Extending the Farm Bill, passing other bills such as House Bill H.R. 273 and H.R. 6416, or passing the Senate Farm Bill with SEC. 12211. DEFINITION OF RURAL AREA FOR PURPOSES OF THE HOUSING ACT OF 1949 will continue the corruption and abuse perpetrated to implement USDA Mutual Self Help Housing programs. What is happening in some areas is the land is being obtained by violating the rights of other citizens who have contracts and prior Vested Property Rights. Innocent citizens who have just purchased new homes are being faced with issues costing their families potentially $100,000+ either to fight legal battles or loss in equity potentially up to $150,000 per family regarding the number one most expensive item most citizens invest in their lifetime … a family home.

These include Legally Disabled Families who due to extra loss of equity in their homes may no longer be able to depend on equity to help with future emergency medical bills or potentially be able to do a reverse mortgage to supplement their retirement. These actions are legally, ethically, and morally wrong. You can take an Identity or cheap car and be arrested, but if you take and change documents attached to another person’s property illegally there is no similar avenue for justice to prevail. This program would not exist if not for citizen’s tax dollars and citizens should not have their families harmed when implementing government programs.

When a program starts becoming corrupt and abusive harming innocent American Citizens is when it needs to possibly be eliminated. The alternative of NOT grandfathering rural communities will at least help potentially reduce the impact regarding current situations taking place and provide an opportunity to insure better oversight regarding this Federal Program.

The Senate Farm Bill would increase the pool of recipients and increased rural community population requirement to 35,000. This population would be a small City not a true rural community. Changing the Census date to 2020 insures those who already received fair share of benefits over past years and self-sufficient to continue receiving benefits. The purpose of rural programs is to help very small struggling communities grow and become self-sufficient, not to become a Welfare System for self-sufficient communities wanting more. To grandfather does not help us reduce our 16+ Trillion Dollar debt and it certainly does not help stop the financial harm being perpetrated against innocent hard working middle class Americans.

Nov 15, 2012 1:53pm EST  --  Report as abuse
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California state worker Albert Jagow (L) goes over his retirement options with Calpers Retirement Program Specialist JeanAnn Kirkpatrick at the Calpers regional office in Sacramento, California October 21, 2009. Calpers, the largest U.S. public pension fund, manages retirement benefits for more than 1.6 million people, with assets comparable in value to the entire GDP of Israel. The Calpers investment portfolio had a historic drop in value, going from a peak of $250 billion in the fall of 2007 to $167 billion in March 2009, a loss of about a third during that period. It is now around $200 billion. REUTERS/Max Whittaker   (UNITED STATES) - RTXPWOZ

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