Congress returned from its latest vacation this week, only to face such thorny issues as a proposed military strike on Syria, the need to raise America’s debt ceiling, and attempts to repeal Obamacare.
Further down the priority list lays the Farm Bill, a languishing, five-year comprehensive measure authorizing federal spending on everything from nutrition programs to disaster payments for farmers.
But lawmakers only carved out a handful of days to reach a compromise before an extension to the current 2008 Farm Bill expires on September 30th. And this week, the Obama Administration’s “Point Man” on agriculture called on Congress to act.
Speaking before National Farmers Union leadership in Washington D.C. this week, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack emphasized the importance of congressional action to prevent further extensions to the 2008 Farm Bill.
Sec. Tom Vilsack, Department of Agriculture: “You do have to begin questioning whether or not this is really a priority and it ought to be a priority, because it’s not just important to rural America, it’s important to all America.”
Lawmakers in the House of Representatives could debate cuts to the nutrition assistance aspects of the farm bill as early as next week. Hoping to cut $40 billion from nutrition programs over the next decade, GOP leaders are proposing 10 times the reduction found in the Senate version of the bill.But the move to make such deep cuts in things like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as Food Stamps, could make it impossible for Congress to reach a compromise. And Vilsack says another extension will leave producers unsure of how they should be conducting the business of farming.
Sec. Tom Vilsack, Department of Agriculture: “It doesn’t provide the certainty that producers need to be able to make decisions and plans about expansion, about continued operation, about transfers and transitions to the next generation. You can’t do any of that unless you know what the programs are going to be.”
About two-thirds of the federal spending authorized by the Farm Bill goes towards nutrition programs, while less than 3 percent is earmarked for other programs including research. Vilsack cautioned that the lack of congressional action could have a negative impact on America’s colleges and universities.
Sec. Tom Vilsack, Department of Agriculture: “And all of those great universities that we like to brag about? Honestly I’m more concerned about the researchers than I am the football team, and everybody in America should be as well. You cannot invest (applause). You can’t have top notch researchers unless you invest in those researchers.”
Vilsack says he has “very, very strong objections” to another extension of the current Farm Bill and he characterized an extension as “a reward for continued failure.”