New Agriculture Bill Needed to Avert Deep Cuts, Vilsack Says

U.S. farmers need a new agriculture law passed by the end of the month or they may face deeper cuts to programs after the election than are now under consideration, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said.

Republicans who are calling for steep reductions to the food-stamp program -- differences in the size of proposed cuts are complicating efforts to forge a new law -- are “deflecting your attention on poor folks,” Vilsack said today at a Washington meeting of the National Farmers Union. Their real goals are reducing “your safety net, protecting the Defense Department” and “making sure there is enough left for tax cuts for really wealthy Americans,” he said.

“They don’t want you to focus on that,” Vilsack, a former Democratic governor of Iowa, told the country’s second-biggest farmer organization.

Lawmakers returned to Washington today facing unfinished work on a stopgap-aid package for livestock producers affected by the worst drought in more than five decades and a reauthorization of agricultural law for the next five years. More than half of all U.S. counties have been declared natural disaster areas by the Department of Agriculture, mainly because of extreme heat and dryness.

Unfinished Business

A livestock-assistance program in the current farm bill expired last year. The House on Aug. 2 approved a $383 million stopgap measure to reinstate the livestock aid, while the Senate took no action. On the farm bill, the House Agriculture Committee and the Senate have approved plans to replace the current law, which expires Sept. 30. House Republican leaders have not set a vote on their legislation.

House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy told reporters today he hopes members will approve the Agriculture Committee plan this month. If time runs out, “then we’ll have to deal with that issue,” the California Republican said, declining to specify what short-term options might be available.

The farm bill funds federal nutrition programs including food stamps, the USDA’s single biggest expense, as well as subsidies to farmers that lower raw-materials costs for companies including Archer Daniels Midland Co. and Bunge Ltd.

Farmers may see record profits of $122.2 billion this year because of high prices, the USDA said last month.

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