Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Farm Bill Delay: Secretary Vilsack Calls 'Baloney' On Dawdling Congress

Republicans are putting farmers 'at risk' with failure to pass new Farm Bill, says ag chief; Food Stamps boost the economy...

By Jerry Hagstrom
Founding Editor, The Hagstrom Report

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack
on Monday urged National Farmers Union members in fiery language to fight for a new Farm Bill. Reacting to reports that House Republican leaders are not sure about how to handle the Farm Bill in the eight days they are scheduled to be in session this month, Vilsack said the idea that Congress can’t pass the measure is “just baloney.” The current Farm Bill expires on September 30th.

“There is no more important piece of legislation Congress can work on for farmers, producers and ranchers than passage of a farm bill this month,” Vilsack said, speaking to the group in the Jefferson Auditorium at USDA.

Farmers Union members from around the country are in Washington for a fly-in, and they also went to the White House and Capitol Hill for other briefings and to lobby Members of Congress. Vilsack gave them a briefing on what to tell Congress to get a new Farm Bill passed.

The record farm income of recent years, record exports and an unemployment rate dropping faster in rural America than in the rest of the country are all “at risk” if a new Farm Bill is not passed immediately, Vilsack said.

If members of Congress say that they are divided and that passing the farm bill is “hard,” farmers should remind them that in the middle of the Civil War in 1862 Congress passed the Homestead Act and the bills to build the transcontinental railroad and establish the land grant college system, the Secretary said.

Republican leaders say Congress is divided about how big a cut to make in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, aka Food Stamps, but Vilsack said the Republicans are “acting like food stamp recipients and farmers are from two separate worlds.”

Ninety-two percent of people who receive food stamp benefits are senior citizens with the lowest levels of Social Security, the disabled, children and parents “who are not at home collecting welfare checks but out working doing the best they can,” Vilsack said.

In addition, he noted, the benefits recipients spend on food stimulate the economy, and 14% percent of that money ends up in farmers’ pockets.

Republicans also talk about the fraud and error rates in food stamps, but Vilsack noted that the fraud rate is less than 1 percent and the error rate is the lowest it's ever been, and that the error rate for crop insurance is six or seven times that for food stamps.

But he told the Farmers Union members he believes the Republicans are also using the divisions over food stamps as a cover for a goal of cutting commodity programs, crop insurance and conservation programs by $50 billion over 10 years and “they don’t want you to know that.”

Vilsack said Republicans are saying, “Just extend the current bill. Trust us.”

But then he asked, “After the election will [the farm bill] look the same as what the Senate passed? Or is the safety net going to be chipped away?”

During a question and answer session, Vilsack also said that Republicans want to cut other government programs because they want to maintain tax cuts “for people making an enormous amount” and don’t want to cut the military.

“I’m not happy I am a member of the first generation that didn’t pay for wars,” Vilsack said, nothing that the only people with “skin in the game” in Iraq and Afghanistan, are “those kids going over there.”

Vilsack also noted that Republican budget plans to do not call for any cuts in military programs.

“Does anyone believe there’s not a cent of efficiency that could be found there?” he asked.

On Wednesday, National Farmers Union members will join the Farm Bill Now coalition for a rally on Capitol Hill, in which nearly 50 farm groups will participate. More information about the 11:00 AM event is at www.farmbillnow.com.

*Photo of Vilsack during his remarks by Bob Nichols/USDA

Jerry Hagstrom, founder and editor of the online, subscription-only The Hagstrom Report, cross-posts breaking news from the agriculture world here at Obama Foodorama. Click the link to subscribe.