While Congress reconvenes for a post-election, "lame-duck" session, farmers and ranchers are urging their representatives to work together to address pressing issues facing agriculture.
Rayne Pegg, manager of the California Farm Bureau Federation Federal Policy Division, says it is vital for Congress to resolve issues such as the Farm Bill and the combination of scheduled tax increases and budget cuts that have come to be known as the "fiscal cliff."
American Farm Bureau Federation President Bob Stallman also emphasized the importance of getting the work done before the end of the year.
"Farmers and ranchers, like all Americans, have a list of issues that they are relying on the administration and Congress to address," he says.
"But we cannot wait until 2013 for the action to start. Serious work on the Farm Bill, the fiscal cliff and critical tax policy fixes all must start during the lame-duck session."
Serious Deadline Looms
The fiscal cliff of automatic, across-the-board spending cuts and the end of Bush-era tax rates that become effective on Jan. 1 pose the most pressing challenges for congressional leaders and the Obama administration.
Josh Rolph of the CFBF Federal Policy Division noted that in President Obama's first address following re-election, he said in clear terms that the wealthiest Americans would need to pay "a little more in taxes."
Although House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) had previously indicated he was willing to negotiate with the president, raising taxes appears not to be an option for Republicans. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) clearly made that point in a statement, Rolph says.
"One thing seems sure: There will be a fight during the lame-duck session between a president who says he now has a mandate to raise taxes on the most wealthy, and congressional Republicans who oppose any tax hikes," says Rolph, who is the CFBF director of international trade, farm policy, taxation and plant health.
"If there is a stalemate, taxes will go up for everyone beginning in January."
Unless Congress acts before the end of the year, for example, the exemption level on federal estate taxes will drop from the current $5 million to $1 million, and the tax rate will increase to 55 percent.
FB Seeks Tax Policy Extension
Farm Bureau continues to urge the lame-duck Congress to extend current tax policies at least temporarily, Rolph says, and will seek broader tax reform in the next Congress.
"With our high land values in California, it's easy for a farmer to be hurt by the lower exemption thresholds and be forced to sell portions of the farm to pay the estate tax bill," Rolph says. "Keeping the family farm in the family is critical to sustaining agriculture, and reforming the estate tax is critical to sustaining family farms everywhere."
Before Congress adjourns its lame-duck session, agricultural groups want representatives to tackle passage of a 2012 Farm Bill. Farm Bureau and many other agricultural groups urge passage of a five-year bill, not a quick fix such as extension of the previous bill, Pegg says.
"There is no reason to extend the 2008 Farm Bill, even temporarily," she says. "Both the House and Senate made great progress on a new Farm Bill, and that progress will be lost if a five-year bill isn't passed this year."
She says farmers and ranchers who rely on disaster assistance, insurance, marketing and research programs will be harmed if Congress fails to act, a sentiment also voiced by House Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Collin Peterson (D-Minn.). Peterson has urged House Republican leaders to bring the bipartisan Agriculture Committee bill to the floor for a vote.
"I'm optimistic that, if given the chance, we have the votes to pass a five-year Farm Bill," he says. "There is no good reason not to vote on the bill. This will give us the time we need to work out differences with the Senate."
Christine Souza is an assistant editor of Calif. Farm Bureau's Ag Alert. Contact her at email@example.com.