Vilsack takes defense of rural America to CNN

By Aarian Marshall

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.

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WASHINGTON, Dec. 30, 2012 - Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack's demand for a reinvigorated rural America reached a crescendo today, as the secretary took his clarion call to this morning's edition of  CNN's State of the Union. 

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“You have every single farm group and rural group united” for a farm bill, Vilsack said, “and Congress hasn't gotten this done.” Vilsack blames the impasse on a growing gap between rural America and the rest of the country - one that stems from the region's failure to communicate its importance to the nation's food system and infrastructure.

The result, the secretary argued, is the waning relevance of rural populations on the political stage. The bill “could have easily been attached to hurricane relief or a fiscal cliff bill, if (Congress) had the (political) will,” Vilsack said.

The secretary stressed that an un-extended farm bill would affect all Americans. “If you like anything made with milk, you're going to be impacted by there not being a farm bill,” he said. Americans with stakes in alternative fuels, exports, local food systems, and hunting or fishing also could be affected by a reversion to 1949 law should there still be no farm bill come Jan. 1.

The interview retread familiar themes for the secretary, who has brought his call for a smarter, more relevant rural America to a number of important industry meetings in the last month. This morning, Vilsack reiterated that the agriculture industry pick its fights warily, as not to overextend its already stretched political capital.

Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., also appeared on State of the Union this morning. Though her roundtable - which included Reps. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., Donna Edwards, D-Md., and Darrell Issa, R-Calif., - focused on the fiscal cliff, the farm bill was not far from her mind.

“I've got $24 billion dollars I'm sitting on with the farm bill,” Stabenow said. “I'm willing to do spending cuts. But the middle class and seniors get hit, over and over again.”

If lawmakers are unable to strike some sort of deal by January 1, an automatic $110 billion in spending cuts and $536 billion in tax increases could threaten to sink the economy back into recession.


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