A long list of pressing issues awaits congressional action during the lame duck session. Chief among them is what to do with a new farm bill.
Moving on new farm legislation may prove difficult following national elections that largely maintained the status quo in the Senate and House. While that balance allowed the Senate to pass its version of the farm bill last summer, House leadership was unwilling to allow the full body to vote on a farm bill passed out of the House Agriculture Committee.
Campaigning just a few days prior to elections, Virginia Rep. Eric Cantor, House majority leader, said he was “committed to bring” the farm bill “issue to the floor.” That perked up ears in farm country and provided some hope Cantor would schedule a farm bill vote during the lame duck session.
Cantor’s spokesperson later dashed those hopes saying the congressman had promised only to “address the issue” without being specific.
Following the November 6 elections, Minnesota Rep. Collin Peterson, ranking member on the House Agriculture Committee, made it clear he is interested only in passing a new farm bill.“The election is over so it’s time to get to work. I’m optimistic that, if given the chance, we have the votes to pass a five-year farm bill. There is no good reason not to vote on the bill when we return next week, before Thanksgiving. This will give us the time we need to work out our differences with the Senate and get a new five-year farm bill signed into law by the end of the year.
“I remain opposed to an extension of any kind for any time.”
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On November 9, Bob Stallman, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, weighed in on the elections, the lame duck session and what U.S. agriculture is facing.
“We spent roughly $6 billion, had the election and months of campaigning,” said Stallman. “The old adage ‘the more things change, the more they stay the same’ holds true here.
“We have basically the same political make-up in the House and Senate with a few changes in seats – the Democrats gained a couple in the Senate and a couple in the House. We have the same president.
“And we have all the same issues on the table that we had before everyone took a hiatus to campaign. Some of those issues are very critical to U.S. agriculture.
“There’s a lot of discussion about what will happen in the lame duck session that will start (the week of November 12). Agriculture has some really big issues of concern there. The ‘fiscal cliff’ discussion brings some of those to the forefront.”
Stallman named three “critical tax issues” that will be tackled during the coming negotiations. “From an agricultural standpoint, the outcome of those discussions could impact us more than getting a new farm bill would.”
- The estate tax.
“We have a $5 million exemption now and a 35 percent tax rate. Without action, that goes back to a $1 million exemption and a 55 percent tax rate. Frankly, that would be almost like confiscating a number of farms in this country. We project, if the ($1 million exemption/55 percent tax) is put in place, it would impact roughly 10 percent of the farms and ranches in this country.”
- The capital gains tax rate.
“We’re a very capital-intensive industry. Upping that tax rate will be detrimental to agriculture. We have a lot of assets, large assets given the price of farm equipment. But whether you sell breeding livestock, farm equipment or even land – selling to the new (farming) generation – the capital gains tax rate has a major economic impact on those decisions and the bottom line.”
- Appreciation deductions.
Stallman said if the deductions get the hook it “would make a huge difference to agriculture. We’ve had the opportunity where we’ve needed to upgrade in agriculture to temper the cost of that a bit by accelerating the depreciation and taking that off in the first year.”
Farm bill apprehensions
On the farm bill itself, Stallman said, “you could fill a couple of binders up with scenarios about how the politics and parliamentary process will play out. I don’t have that much of a better window than anyone else…
“We want a five-year farm bill reauthorized as quickly as possible. Farmers and ranchers deserve that because we need to know what the rules are. We’re making our plans for the next crop year and it’s difficult to know how those plans would be impacted by whatever changes there are in farm policy until we have some certainty…
While differences exist between the Senate and House Agriculture Committee farm bill versions, Stallman said none were insurmountable. “The reality is those differences aren’t too much to put into a conference committee and come out with a resolution.
“The question is whether there will be political will from leadership to move in that direction and get it done. One of the big hold-ups from the House side had been what should be done with nutrition spending. Those issues will have to be resolved before we get a full five-year farm bill reauthorization.”
Stallman also brought up the need to pass permanent normal trade relations with Russia. “We supported Russia joining the WTO and coming under that rules-based trading system so they’d be restricted from playing the games they have in the past” with U.S. livestock exports. However, “we can’t access those rules until we pass permanent normal trade relations for Russia. We understand that, hopefully, that will be teed up next week in the lame duck.”
Queried specifically on Peterson’s staunch opposition to anything other than a five-year farm bill, Stallman said the AFBF “is opposed to a one-year extension if it is proposed. Our preference is a full, five-year farm bill authorized in the lame duck.
“If that isn’t possible, we’d be willing to accept some short-term extensions. By that, I mean doing what’s necessary to deal with the 1949 act and get to a point early – and I say early in the new Congress – where we could go ahead and pass a farm bill.
“I do not expect a full five-year farm bill to be passed as a stand-alone in the lame duck. I think it would be merged with something else. Once again, you could come up with all different parliamentary scenarios where that may happen.”
Admitting a bit of apprehension, Stallman said the farm bill could be wrapped up “into a lame duck piece of legislation that’s part of a grand budget deal (where) we stand the risk of losing more (funding). We hope that isn’t the case.
“We supported the types of reductions embodied in the House and Senate. Frankly, we feel we’ve already given in the pew in the collection plate, if you will. We want to hold it to that. But we’ll always be at risk because there are some large dollars in the farm bill. As people look for money to resolve budget and fiscal issues in the country, we’ll continue to be a target.”