News / USA

'Fiscal Cliff' Agreement to Include Farm Bill Fix

For many Americans, New Year’s Eve focused on the U.S. Congress going over the so-called “fiscal cliff” of massive tax hikes and spending cuts.  But congressional gridlock has produced another precipice, this one in the dairy aisles of U.S. grocery stores.

Beginning in the Great Depression of the 1930s, Congress wrote legislation intended to stabilize food supplies and keep struggling farmers in business.  Congress is supposed to rewrite the law every five years or so.  But the law has expired, and lawmakers have not passed a new one, says Mary Kay Thatcher, a lobbyist for the largest farmers’ group - the American Farm Bureau Federation.

"What happens when it expires is, it reverts to what’s called ‘permanent law,’ which [is] laws that were written in the 1930s and the 1940s,” she says.

Under the 1940s law, the government will buy milk from farmers at about twice of what it costs today.  And prices for consumers will follow.

Thatcher says the U.S. Department of Agriculture, or USDA, will need a few weeks to implement the policy.  She says she hopes the issue will be settled by then because what’s being called the “dairy cliff” is just the beginning.  Programs supporting other crop farmers revert back to 1940s policy, too.

“The next cliff would probably be looking at wheat, because [in] about March, the USDA would have to say, ‘Here’s what the price of wheat will be,” Thatcher explained.

And that is not all that is expected to happen with the expiration of the Farm Bill, says Roger Johnson, head of another leading farmers’ group - the National Farmers Union.

“The renewable energy programs are all gone.  A number of the conservation programs are gone.  A number of the beginning farmer and rancher programs are gone," Johnson says. "The disaster programs are all gone.”

The main reason comes down to food aid programs for the poor.  These are among the nutrition programs make up about 80 percent of the spending in the Farm Bill.

Record numbers of Americans are using one key program, known as food stamps.  But at a time of record deficits, the program is a target for spending cuts, says the Farm Bureau’s Mary Kay Thatcher.

“And there’s quite a philosophical debate on the Hill [i.e., Capitol Hill] where in general, Democrats don’t want to cut any funding at all out of food stamps, and in general, Republicans want to cut significantly more than either the House or the Senate have been willing to do so far,” Thatcher added.

And critics say the bill included subsidies for farmers that were far too generous.

The Democratic-led Senate passed a version of the bill; the Republican-led House of Representatives did not vote on its version.

So the previous law has expired, and milk will likely be the first casualty.  The irony, says Roger Johnson with the National Farmers Union, is that a dispute over cutting spending might have the opposite effect.

“We could potentially end up with legislation that’s going to cost us far more money and produce far fewer benefits to the public, and all because we’ve got a Congress that can’t seem to do its job,” Johnson says.

And now the job for lawmakers is bringing farm policy back from the 1940s.

You May Like

N. Korea Sentences American to 6 Years Hard Labor

Matthew Miller's brief trial Sunday comes two weeks after 24-year old Miller and two other American detainees appealed to the US government to help free them More

Pakistan Rejects Afghan Criticism of 480-kilometer Border Trench

Military spokesman tells VOA the project is part of administrative and security measures taken to secure the mountainous border with Afghanistan More

Photogallery Typhoon Kalmaegi Makes Landfall in Philippines

Storm makes landfall late Sunday, cutting power and communications lines and forcing people to flee to higher ground More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Scotland Independence Bid Stokes Global Interesti
X
Henry Ridgwell
September 12, 2014 8:35 PM
The people of Scotland are preparing to vote on whether to become independent and break away from the rest of Britain, in a referendum being watched carefully in many other countries. Some see it as a risky experiment; while others hope a successful vote for independence might energize their own separatist demands. Foreign immigrants to Scotland have a front row seat for the vote. VOA’s Henry Ridgwell spoke to some of them in Edinburgh.
Video

Video Scotland Independence Bid Stokes Global Interest

The people of Scotland are preparing to vote on whether to become independent and break away from the rest of Britain, in a referendum being watched carefully in many other countries. Some see it as a risky experiment; while others hope a successful vote for independence might energize their own separatist demands. Foreign immigrants to Scotland have a front row seat for the vote. VOA’s Henry Ridgwell spoke to some of them in Edinburgh.
Video

Video Washington DC Mural Artists Help Beautify City

Like many cities, Washington has a graffiti problem. Buildings and homes, especially in low-income neighborhoods, are often targets of illegal artwork. But as we hear from VOA’s Julie Taboh, officials in the nation's capital have come up with an innovative program that uses the talents of local artists to beautify the city.
Video

Video Palestinians Turn to Rebuilding Gaza

After almost two months of conflict in Gaza, Palestinians are preparing to rebuild the isolated Mediterranean enclave with assistance from abroad. Meanwhile, an international human rights group has found that Israel likely violated international laws of war during some of its attacks on Gaza. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video US Muslim Leaders Condemn Islamic State

Leaders of America's Muslim community are condemning the violent extremism of the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria. The U.S. Muslim leaders say militants are exploiting their faith in a failed effort to justify violent extremism. VOA correspondent Meredith Buel reports.
Video

Video Middle Eastern Church Leaders Highlight Christians’ Plight

Patriarchs of Eastern Rite churches came to Washington this week to draw attention to the attacks against Christians in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East. VOA’s religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky has more.
Video

Video Americans' Reaction Mixed on Obama Strategy for Islamic State Militants

President Barack Obama’s televised speech on how the United States plans to “degrade and destroy” the group known as the Islamic State reached a prime-time audience of millions. And it came as Americans appear more willing to embrace a bolder, tougher approach to foreign policy. VOA producer Katherine Gypson and reporter Jeff Seldin have this report from Washington.
Video

Video Authorities Allege LA Fashion Industry-Cartel Ties

U.S. officials say they have broken up crime rings that funneled tens of millions of dollars from Mexican drug cartels through fashion businesses in Los Angeles. Mike O'Sullivan reports that authorities announced nine arrests, as 1,000 law enforcement agents fanned out through the city on Wednesday.
Video

Video Bedouin Woman Runs Successful Business in Palestinian City

A Bedouin woman is breaking social taboos by running a successful vacation resort in the Palestinian town of Jericho. Bedouins are a sub-group of Arabs known for their semi-nomadic lifestyle. Zlatica Hoke says the resort in the West Bank's Jordan Valley is a model of success for women in the region.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid