Can Kicked on Farm Bill, Leaving Ag Advocates Disappointed

Though a “fiscal cliff” deal is complete in Congress, the fallout certainly isn’t over.

The 113th Congress was sworn in Jan. 3, one day after the contentious battle over tax rates was officially settled with the signing into law of the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012. But the new Congress has plenty of unfinished business.

The deal that resulted after Congress’s final discussions over the country’s budget failed to address America’s long-term debt issue, but it also failed to settle another ongoing debate centered around programs, subsidies, and policy for American agriculture in the wake of the expiration of the 2008 Farm Bill.

The five-year bipartisan deal, the Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act of 2012 which was intended to settle the debate, cleared both the Senate and the House Agriculture committees back in July. But the deal never had a vote on the House floor during the final leg of the lame-duck session.

But in order to avert subsidies and agriculture policy from reverting to price controls set in the 1940s and causing possible price hikes for dairy products, the 2008 Farm Bill that originally expired Sept. 30, 2012, was extended through Sept. 30, 2013, as part of the last-minute package.

Rep. Frank Lucas (R-Okla.), chairman of the House Committee on Agriculture, said the legislation’s one-year extension of the farm bill gives agricultural producers certainty and allows Congress the time to continue ironing out a five-year comprehensive farm bill.

Still, the delays and prolonged uncertainty that the “fiscal cliff” caused has one senator up in arms for tax extensions for farmers.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), who farms corn and soy beans 50-50 with his son in Butler County, Iowa, urged the Treasury Department and Internal Revenue Service (IRS) this week to grant penalty relief to family farmers who are forced to file their taxes late due to Congress’s delay in coming to terms with the tax act.

“Farmers should not be penalized for the president and Congress’ failure to act on tax legislation on a timely basis,” Grassley wrote in a letter to the agencies. “The IRS should do all it can to ensure forms are ready as soon as possible, but should be prepared to grant penalty relief to farmers who are unable to meet the deadline due to the delay.”

Meanwhile, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, who accepted President Barack Obama’s offer to stay on with his new administration, expressed concern about the temporary extension for farm policies. “While I am relieved that the agreement reached prevents a spike in the price of dairy and other commodities, I am disappointed Congress has been unable to pass a multi-year reauthorization of the Food, Farm and Jobs bill to give rural America the long-term certainty they need and deserve,” said Vilsack.

Other members of Congress involved in the failed process were also disappointed.

“I would have preferred a five-year bill, but at the end of the day, I didn't have a five-year bill to vote on,” said Sen. Mike Johanns (R-Neb.) who serves on the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee. “I had a one-year extension, and this wasn't a close call, one-year extension versus the '49 act. I'll support the one-year extension, although I'm not thrilled about it.”