USDA: Fail­ure to pass farm bill would be cat­a­strophic

Old bill set to ex­pire March 15

The Covington News - - Agriculture & Outdoors - By Scott Son­ner

SPARKS, Nev. — Fail­ure to reach agree­ment on a new farm bill be­fore the old one ex­pires March 15 would be “cat­a­strophic” for most agri­cul­tural sec­tors of the U.S. econ­omy, a top USDA of­fi­cial said.

But Agri­cul­ture Un­der­sec­re­tary Mark Rey also said Mon­day he’s in­creas­ingly op­ti­mistic Congress and the White House will strike a deal af­ter law­mak­ers ini­tially had re­fused to take se­ri­ously the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s in­sis­tence the leg­is­la­tion in­clude no tax in­creases.

“I think the odds are pretty good,” Rey told The As­so­ci­ated Press af­ter a speech to the Na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion of Con­ser­va­tion Dis­tricts. He urged mem­bers to press their rep­re­sen­ta­tives to ap­prove a new five-year bill be­fore the cur­rent 2002 law ex­pires.

“The con­se­quences of not get­ting a bill would be cat­a­strophic for agri­cul­ture. We would be re­vert­ing back to 1940s leg­is­la­tion. Al­most all of our con­ser­va­tion pro­grams would be lost. Many of the mod­ern day agri­cul­ture pro­grams would not be funded,” he said in an in­ter­view.

Rey, un­der­sec­re­tary for na­tional re­sources and the en­vi­ron­ment, said that prior to last week he had been pes­simistic about an agree­ment be­ing reached but that the po­lit­i­cal cli­mate changed when Pres­i­dent Bush threat­ened on Thurs­day to veto any farm bill that raises taxes.

“Up un­til last week, I think a lot of peo­ple thought, ‘Well, the ad­min­is­tra­tion is just blow­ing smoke,’” Rey told the AP, not­ing it was the first ad­min­is­tra­tion since Nixon’s in the late 1960s to draft its own pro­posal.

Be­cause farm bills typ­i­cally are writ­ten in Congress, Rey said, the think­ing on Capi­tol Hill was “it doesn’t mat­ter whether they (the White House) are rais­ing a squawk about the spend­ing, about the tax in­creases, about the bud­get gim­micks — they are go­ing to sign what­ever we send them.”

“I think last week the pres­i­dent sent a pretty clear mes­sage that is not the case,” Rey said.

Demo­cratic lead­ers of the agri­cul­ture pan­els in both hous- es have sug­gested that if the ne­go­ti­a­tions come to a stale­mate, Congress might by­pass an ex­ten­sion of the cur­rent law and al­low farm pol­icy to re­vert to per­ma­nent statutes last up­dated in 1949. That could cause ma­jor prob­lems for the dairy and soy­bean in­dus­tries, among oth­ers, and would elim­i­nate newer pro­grams de­signed to pro­tect en­vi­ron­men­tally sen­si­tive land and ex­tra dol­lars for the fruit and veg­etable in­dus­tries.

Since Bush is­sued his veto threat, Rey said key House mem­bers seem to be “com­ing to the con­clu­sion” the pres­i­dent won’t sign a farm bill with any tax in­creases but “I don’t think the Se­nate is there yet.”

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