Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack sharply criticized House Republicans’ proposed farm bill on Wednesday, saying they are relying on “budget gimmicks” to fund legislation that overpromises and won't deliver for producers.

Talking to reporters a day ahead of the scheduled House Agriculture Committee debate on Chairman Glenn “GT” Thompson’s proposal, Vilsack endorsed an alternative proposal put forth by Senate Ag Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., earlier this month. Vilsack said she has taken a more sensible approach by securing money outside the farm bill to pay for priorities such as increased reference prices.

Stabenow has provided “a practical, doable, get-it-done farm bill in order to move the process, accelerate the process along, basically providing a little bit of everything for everybody," Vilsack said.

In contrast, he said of the House bill, “Creating the false expectation that you can basically please everyone, and then using essentially counterfeit money to do it, I think creates a problem.”

Vilsack cited the fact that the Congressional Budget Office has concluded that restricting USDA's authority to use the Commodity Credit Corporation's Section 5 spending authority would save only $8 billion that could be used to pay for increasing reference prices and making other changes to commodity programs. Thompson has insisted the savings are closer to $53 billion.

“So there's quite a delta between an $8 billion CBO, impartially designed and designated score, and the utilization of some budget gimmicks to essentially create sort of counterfeit money if you will, to be able to fit all of the other efforts that this farm bill is proposing,” Vilsack said.

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On the proposed suspension of USDA's Section 5 authority, Vilsack said, "It's necessary for USDA to have the capacity and the ability and the flexibility to respond at a moment's notice to the impact of ... natural disasters." 

He said USDA needs to retain that spending authority because there's no guarantee that Congress will pass disaster assistance bills when they are needed by producers. In addition, last year, "we received, essentially, $3 billion for $10 billion of losses," he said.

Vilsack also criticized the House bill's proposal to move $13 billion in conservation money from the Inflation Reduction Act into the farm bill without the IRA’s climate-smart requirements. Vilsack said that “accelerates and exacerbates the consolidation and concentration of farm income and loss of farmland by basically taking the resources away from climate-smart” practices.

“You are eliminating and limiting the ability of farmers to basically get a value-added proposition for what they're growing,” he said. “You’re eliminating the ability to measure, quantify and report the benefits of climate-smart agriculture practices.” That, in turn, makes it “difficult for those farms to qualify for the environmental and ecosystem system service market credits.”

Vilsack said given that it's already May, it's too late in the year for Congress to spend time on impractical proposals. Farm programs are currently operating on a one-year extension that lawmakers passed last fall.

"There are literally tens of millions of people that are anxious and interested in knowing what the next farm bill will be, and are relying on the next farm bill to be able to make decisions about their operation and their family, in their community and their business," he said.

In a statement responding to Vilsack, Thompson said, “It’s clear from this eleventh hour push that the secretary is determined to use every penny of the borrowing authority made available to him to circumvent Congress if left unchecked. The committee is reasserting Congress’ authority over the Commodity Credit Corporation, which will bring reckless administrative spending under control and provides funding for key bipartisan priorities in the farm bill.

“The sudden rancor on using the CCC as a pay-for is nothing more than the latest partisan attempt to divide our committee and slow down progress on passing a farm bill.”

It had been known for some time that Thompson planned to use the CCC to fund the commodity title, a proposal Democrats have criticized. The details and the cost of changes to the commodity title were disclosed last week.

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