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Vilsack: Pass farm bill, or face 'fiscal cliff' consequences

VilsackTom

Tom Vilsack


Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack warned the House and Senate agriculture committees today that they need to reach agreement on the farm bill quickly or face the possibility that President Barack Obama and House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, could use farm bill spending authority to help solve the federal deficit without their input.

“The risk the Agriculture leaders face is that the speaker and the president could get in a room. They could be so many billions away from a deal,” Vilsack said, adding that Obama and Boehner might decide to take “X” amount out of agriculture without much consultation or the inclusion of a new farm bill if one is not written.

Vilsack also noted that he has warned the Agriculture leaders that if Obama and Boehner reach a deal it will be finalized very quickly and that they will not wait for the Agriculture committees to put the final touches on a bill.

“That train could leave the station any day,” Vilsack said. “You had better be prepared.”

At a news conference to announce Obama administration actions on drought relief, Vilsack also said that the Agriculture Department continues to provide technical assistance when asked, but that there is a limit to what he can do to move Congress.

“I can’t force people to meet,” he said. “I can encourage them to meet.”

Asked whether he is worried that the House provision to include a target-price program would cause planting distortions, Vilsack said he would not get into specifics on the bill.

On the issue of what he will do if neither a farm bill nor an extension is passed and a 1949 dairy law goes into effect on January 1, Vilsack said, “I will do what the law requires me to do.”

Vilsack said his main message to the House and Senate committees is: “Don’t let somebody else craft the farm legislation.”

He also said that not passing a bill would raise milk prices, put the United States at a competitive disadvantage because the programs to promote U.S. farm products expired on September 30 and because momentum for biofuels and other rural development programs will be lost.

“If we get this done, rural America wins and if we don’t rural America loses,” Vilsack said.

Vilsack also said he does not believe Congress will pass an extension of the 2008 farm bill.

Aides to Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., said today that she is determined to pass a new bill, and that her staff is not working on an extension back-up bill.