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Vilsack to House: Pass farm bill by September 30

Tom Vilsack

Tom Vilsack

Citing the need for disaster aid programs, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today called on the House leadership to move the farm bill so that a conference report on the bill can be sent to President Barack Obama by Sept. 30, the date the current farm bill expires.

Vilsack told The Hagstrom Report that he has “a growing concern that the House Republican leadership is not prioritizing the food, farm and jobs bill to the point we can get this work done before Sept. 30.”

Vilsack noted that he is particularly concerned because of the impact of fires in the Western part of the country and the potential impact of drought in the Midwest and the Southwest on livestock operators.

“There is no disaster program currently available to them,” he said, adding that disaster programs have expired and that an extension of the 2008 farm bill would not put those programs back in place.

Vilsack said he was reacting to statements by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., that he was putting the “pause button” on the farm bill. The secretary has previously said that a “pause button” on the farm bill could cause farmers and others to put their fingers on a “panic button” because delaying the bill causes so much uncertainty.

Today he also noted that House leaders have said they intend to hold votes to repeal the health care law that the Supreme Court upheld Thursday, and that this could also delay other legislation.

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., has told reporters this week that the need to consider other legislation may increase the prospects for an extension, but Vilsack said today he is certain that Lucas and House Agriculture Committee ranking member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., want to move the bill as soon as possible.

Vilsack said he is also concerned that a delay beyond Sept. 30 may put the farm bill into “the discussion of the sequester and tax cuts expiring.” Combining the farm bill with those initiatives “runs the risk of some serious diminution of the resources” to fund the farm bill.

He also said that there is a momentum to the rural economy because “rural folks are doing what they are supposed to do” in terms of producing food that is exported, increasing local food production and becoming more involved in the biobased economy. Uncertainty about the farm bill, he said, may cause producers to “pull back from that momentum."

Vilsack also noted that everyone involved in the farm bill has long noted that writing the bill in 2013 “will not be any easier.”

The next steps, he said, are up to Cantor and House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio.

“There is no reason not to get this done,” Vilsack said. “It is really about whether the House leadership sees rural America in a serious and significant way. Now is not the time to turn our backs on rural America.”