WASHINGTON — Congress' failure to pass a farm bill before leaving town last week was “inexcusable,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said Monday.
The former Iowa governor took issue with lawmakers who downplayed the consequences of allowing the current bill to expire on Sept. 30. Vilsack said the uncertainty created by the inaction threatens the ongoing economic success stories in farm country.
“All of that could come to a crashing halt because of the uncertainty of what the programs are going to be and the lack of action on the part of Congress,” Vilsack told The World-Herald.
Some programs such as crop insurance and food stamps will continue despite the expiration, but Vilsack said others will disappear. Because of Congress' failure to act:
» Export assistance programs will lapse, so producers hoping to go to trade shows overseas may be out of luck.
» Farmers won't be able to enroll in the Conservation Reserve Program, which pays them to keep erodible lands out of production.
» Dairy support programs face expiration.
The end of the current law means permanent law technically goes back into effect and with it crop price supports from the 1940s. But because those programs are based on crop years, the real deadline is the end of 2012.
“Technically there is some room for farm policy drift without disruption, but it is not the best planning mechanism,” Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb., said last week.
The Lincoln congressman was among those who signed a petition in a procedural bid to force a floor vote on the farm bill, but that effort fell short.
The Senate and the House Agriculture Committees have passed different versions of a farm bill. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, refused to bring either to the floor, saying he didn't have the votes for passage.
The farm bill is likely to be an issue in some House races, including Iowa's Fourth Congressional District. That's where Vilsack's wife, Christie, is running against Rep. Steve King, a Republican.
King told The World-Herald last week that he wants a farm bill as soon as possible and noted that Boehner promised to bring one to the floor in the “lame duck” session following the election.
He suggested that his approach to the farm bill has positioned him well to serve on a conference committee that would iron out differences between House and Senate versions during the lame-duck session.
“If you can't get floor action on a farm bill (now) ... then taking it up when we get back is the next best thing,” he said.
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