An informal, end-of-this-week deadline to get a Farm Bill draft approved by a team of congressional negotiators will not be met, throwing into question whether the Farm Bill can be be passed in the House by year’s end. U.S. Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack says congress can act quickly “when there’s a will and there’s a way.”
“We have to have a clear indication from congress that this is going to get done,” Vilsack says. “Obviously there are some who are skeptical about that given the fact that we have already seen one year with inaction.”
A Farm Bill was due to be passed by this time last year, but congress passed a one-year extension. Vilsack says inaction again this year means his agency will begin instituting the federal farm policies of the 1940s — which are far more costly.
“No one wants to do that,” Vilsack says, “and the best and simplest way to avoid it having to be done — at whatever point in time — is to have congress finish its work by the end of the year.”
After this week, congress will be in recess for the Thanksgiving holiday. In December, the House will be in session for just two weeks and the Senate for slightly longer before adjourning for the year. Without passage of a five-year Farm Bill, Vilsack says farmers and ranchers are delaying key decisions.
“Doesn’t know how to decide whether to expand, to buy an additional piece of equipment because he or she does not know what the programs are going to be,” Vilsack says. “There is no question that farmers have taken a ‘wait and see’ attitude to further decisions that could help spur not only their own operation, but spur the economy generally.”
According to a report released Thursday by the White House Council on Economic Advisors, agriculture accounts for nearly five percent of the Gross Domestic Product and one in 12 jobs in the U.S. are in agriculture. Vilsack called it ”a compelling report that makes the argument on a multitude of levels why it’s important for the rest of the country and all of America to see congress finish its work” on the Farm Bill.
The chairman of the House Ag Committee emerged from a meeting on Thursday afternoon saying anything is possible, but it “will be challenging” for Farm Bill negotiators to wrap up their work and have a bill ready for a vote in the House by December 13. There are no plans for the House-Senate conference commitee working out the details of a hoped-for Farm Bill compromise to meet today. Senator Tom Harkin and Congressman Steve King serve on the committee, but neither was involved in this week’s negotiations between the four top lawmakers on the panel.