On eve of farm bill expiration, USDA's Harden 'an eternal optimist'
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WASHINGTON, Sept. 30, 2013 - When the clock strikes midnight, it could be a one-two punch for the Department of Agriculture, with the expiration of the 2008 Farm Bill extension eclipsed only by an increasingly likely government shutdown. But USDA Deputy Secretary Krysta Harden told assembled members of the United Fresh Produce Association today that she is an “eternal optimist” when it comes to the conflicts.
“The right will win in the long run,” she said of the farm bill controversy, which has dragged on for two years. “I don't think it'll be done by tomorrow, but there's still time.”
Harden is probably at least partially right - we won't have a new farm bill by tomorrow. With the Senate and House ping-ponging Continuing Resolutions concerning the defunding of the Affordable Care Act, conventional wisdom has it that the government will shut down tonight. That's sucking air out of the room that might otherwise be spent dealing with a farm bill.
The future of farm legislation, then, is murky, with House conferees yet to be appointed and a bicameral conference timeline little-discussed in a crowded and tense political climate.
Still, the crowd gathered at United Fresh's annual public policy conference appeared to be in good spirits, despite the turn of legislative events.
Harden, who was just sworn in as Deputy Secretary in August, told the members about her Georgia farming roots and joked about her accent before highlighting departmental headway in the National School Lunch Program.
Harden's step-granddaughter, she said, had reported that all the “cool kids” are eating salad at her middle school cafeteria.
“So I think we're doing something right - she's just one kid at one school in Georgia, but I think she's one of many,” she said to the producers and processors. “We're making great progress together.”
Earlier this year, the Centers for Disease Control reported the child obesity rates in low-income brackets have gone down for the first time in a decade. Still, the agency reports that one in eight U.S. preschoolers are obese.
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