Issue Update: Landmark Legal Foundation Suit Against EPA

In October of 2012, the Landmark Legal Foundation filed suit against the EPA for the Agency’s failure to produce information about regulations the EPA would issue after the November 6th election.  The complaint can be accessed by visiting http://www.landmarklegal.org/uploads/Complaint_Filed.pdf

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January 2013 Legislative Report

Congress Delays Difficult Spending Decisions

As the clock struck midnight for the 112th Congress, the United States House of Representatives followed the lead of their Senate counterparts and passed the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012, the fiscal cliff compromise legislation that had been hammered out by Vice-President Joe Biden and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R – KY). 

The overall agreement raises approximately $620 billion over the next ten years, with tax rates permanently raised to 39.6 percent for individuals earning more than $400,000/year and couples earning more than $450,000/year.  In addition, capital gains and dividends are permanently set at 20 percent for individuals earning more than $400,000/year and couples earning more than $450,000/year – with rates for all other earners remaining at 15 percent.

Of consequence to the agriculture sector, the estate tax is permanently set at a $5 million exemption for individuals indexed for inflation – with a $10 million exemption for couples, at a 40 percent rate (compared to the previous rate of 35 percent.  This is in sharp contrast to the $1 million exemption and 55 percent rate that would have kicked in had Congress taken no action.  Stepped-up basis is already permanent law and will continue.

When it came to the $1.6 trillion in automatic “sequestration” budget reductions that would have begun in January, the leadership chose to punt the ball into the current congress.  By delaying politically charged spending reductions until March 1, 2013 the public will again be witness to political and philosophical gamesmanship.

Fiscal Cliff Compromise (Sort of) Extends 2008 Farm Bill

Included in the final fiscal cliff compromise was an extension (with some exceptions) of the 2008 Farm Bill until September 30, 2013.  The agreed-upon language extended current commodity terms and conditions for all commodities for the 2013 crop year, including sugar cane, sugar beets and peanuts but it did not extend several other farm policy programs.

The agreement also continues direct payments to producers – payments that would have been eliminated in both the House Ag Committee and Senate versions of the 2012 Farm Bill but, in this particular case, preserving direct payments retains much-needed baseline for development of a new farm bill.

As noted above, the legislation extending the current farm bill has a varied impact on the 37 programs whose baseline had expired September 30, 2012 or sooner.  For example, the Biobased Market, the Biorefinery Assistance, the Bioenergy Program for Advanced Biofuels and the Biomass Research and Development programs were all reauthorized at previous levels.

Other programs amongst the “Gang of 37” that received funding levels for 2013, included the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program at a level of $30 million, the Biomass Crop Assistance Program at $20 million and the Biodiesel Fuel Education Program at a level of $1 million.

The negotiators also gave a nod to the specialty crop and organic sectors – a priority for Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Debbie Stabenow – when in considering funding allocations for 2013.  The Specialty Crop Research Initiative ($100 million), Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiatives ($25 million), National Organic Certification Cost-Sharing ($22 million) and Organic Production and Market Data Initiatives ($5 million) all lived to fight another day.

This was not the case for a number of other programs – any of which could resurface when the Senate and House Agriculture committee craft the 2013 Farm Bill.  These included the somewhat controversial Supplemental Revenue Assistance Payments (SURE) Program, as well as the Healthy Forests Reserve, Market Loss Assistance for Asparagus Producers, Rural Microentrepreneur Assistance and the McGovern-Dole International Food for Education and Child Nutrition programs.  In addition, the Grassland Reserve and Wetlands Reserve programs were among the programs that did not make the final cut but may be revived in coming months.

As for disaster programs, the final agreement did not provide mandatory funding but did authorize discretionary funding levels for fiscal years 2012 and 2013.  These funding levels include $400 million a year for the livestock forage disaster program, $80 million a year for livestock indemnity payments, $50 million a year for emergency assistance for livestock, honeybees and farm-raised fish and $20 million a year for the tree assistance program.  To put it another way, this money is not yet “in the bank” but accounts have been set up in their name.

For the renewable energy sector, there were a number of bright spots in the final agreement.  The Production Tax Credit (PTC) for wind energy systems was extended for one year for projects starting in 2013. Whereas the eligibility criteria for the tax credit had been tied to when a wind project was connected to “the grid”, it is now when a project is under construction.  This shift in timing essentially extends the PTC for two years because it generally takes 18-24 months to develop a project.

In addition the cellulosic biofuel producer and the biodiesel tax credits have been extended through 2013.  The reinstatement of the tax credits for biodiesel and renewable diesel for 2012 and 2013 are expected to free up investment capital that had been awaiting signals as to what approach Congress would take in regards to the industry tax incentives.

The farm bill extension in the final agreement, however, was not the one preferred by Senate Agriculture Committee Senator Stabenow, House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R – OK) and ranking Democrat Collin Peterson (D – MN).  In the waning days of the 112th Congress the members referenced above had proposed a farm bill extension that included disaster assistance, dairy reforms (in the form of the Dairy Security Act) and a reduction in direct payments.

Work Begins Anew on 2013 Farm Bill

The timeframe for action on the farm bill remains fluid and long-time observers of farm bill politics have never seen anything like the paralysis that has gripped the process over the past few months.  Although both the Senate and House Agriculture committees have a foundation from which to work in crafting the 2013 Farm Bill, procedurally their work must begin anew with the onset of the 113th Congress.

In the House of Representatives the landscape remains full of obstacles and the atmosphere has been poisoned by the failure of the GOP leadership to bring the farm bill passed by House Agriculture Committee to the House floor for consideration during the waning days of the 112th Congress.  For example, Representative Collin Peterson – the ranking Democrat on the committee – recently sent a letter to House Republican leadership outlining his frustrations with how the farm bill process has played out thus far.

In his letter Mr. Peterson indicates that he sees “no reason why the House Agriculture Committee should undertake the fool’s errand to craft another long-term farm bill if the Republican Leadership refuses to give any assurances that our bipartisan work will be considered.”  He went on to note that  “You and your Leadership team seem very content with simply extending the 2008 Farm Bill year after year without making any effort at reform, achieving savings and efficiencies, or improving the farm safety net for rural America. If that is your goal, I will certainly accommodate you.”

Prospects for passage of a 2013 Farm Bill appear more positive in the Senate.  Senator Stabenow has indicated she will work to markup a five-year farm bill in February.

Although the Upper Chamber has a number of new members, Senator Mike Johanns (R – NE) is confident the Senate Agriculture Committee can advance a five-year farm bill out of committee that can be passed by the full Senate.  In a recent Agri-Pulse interview, Mr. Johanns noted that the bills developed by Congress last year likely contain enough spending reductions to satisfy a reduced baseline.  In the end, he believes spending reductions for the final product will be in the range of $25 billion.

A substantive change in the leadership of the Senate Agriculture Committee is worth mentioning.  Whereas Senator Pat Roberts (R – KS) had served as the ranking Republican on the committee during the 112th Congress, that seat will now be occupied by Senator Thad Cochran (R – MS).  Mr. Cochran, chairman of the committee from 2003 – 2005, has seniority over Mr. Roberts and had made the decision to assert that privilege at the onset of the 113th Congress.

The change is noteworthy in that Mr. Roberts has traditionally been an opponent of the target price provisions contained in the version of the farm bill that had passed the House Agriculture Committee last year, whereas Mr. Cochran tends to have a philosophical alignment on commodity payment mechanisms with House agriculture Chairman Frank Lucas and the ranking Democrat on the committee, Mr. Peterson.

Copyright © 2013 RDL & Associates, LLC. All rights reserved.

Fiscal Cliff Compromise Extends 2008 Farm Bill

Included in the final fiscal cliff compromise was an extension (with some exceptions) of the 2008 Farm Bill until September 30, 2013.  The agreed-upon language extended current commodity terms and conditions for all commodities for the 2013 crop year, including sugar cane, sugar beets and peanuts but it did not extend several other farm policy programs.

The agreement also continues direct payments to producers – payments that would have been eliminated in both the House Ag Committee and Senate versions of the 2012 Farm Bill but, in this particular case, preserving direct payments retains much-needed baseline for development of a new farm bill.

As noted above, the legislation extending the current farm bill has a varied impact on the 37 programs whose baseline had expired September 30, 2012 or sooner.  For example, the Biobased Market, the Biorefinery Assistance, the Bioenergy Program for Advanced Biofuels and the Biomass Research and Development programs were all reauthorized at previous levels.

Other programs amongst the “Gang of 37” that received funding levels for 2013, included the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program at a level of $30 million, the Biomass Crop Assistance Program at $20 million and the Biodiesel Fuel Education Program at a level of $1 million.

The negotiators also gave a nod to the specialty crop and organic sectors – a priority for Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Debbie Stabenow – when in considering funding allocations for 2013.  The Specialty Crop Research Initiative ($100 million), Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiatives ($25 million), National Organic Certification Cost-Sharing ($22 million) and Organic Production and Market Data Initiatives ($5 million) all lived to fight another day.

This was not the case for a number of other programs – any of which could resurface when the Senate and House Agriculture committee craft the 2013 Farm Bill.  These included the somewhat controversial Supplemental Revenue Assistance Payments (SURE) Program, as well as the Healthy Forests Reserve, Market Loss Assistance for Asparagus Producers, Rural Microentrepreneur Assistance and the McGovern-Dole International Food for Education and Child Nutrition programs.  In addition, the Grassland Reserve and Wetlands Reserve programs were among the programs that did not make the final cut but may be revived in coming months.

As for disaster programs, the final agreement did not provide mandatory funding but did authorize discretionary funding levels for fiscal years 2012 and 2013.  These funding levels include $400 million a year for the livestock forage disaster program, $80 million a year for livestock indemnity payments, $50 million a year for emergency assistance for livestock, honeybees and farm-raised fish and $20 million a year for the tree assistance program.  To put it another way, this money is not yet “in the bank” but accounts have been set up in their name.

For the renewable energy sector, there were a number of bright spots in the final agreement.  The Production Tax Credit (PTC) for wind energy systems was extended for one year for projects starting in 2013. Whereas the eligibility criteria for the tax credit had been tied to when a wind project was connected to “the grid”, it is now when a project is under construction.  This shift in timing essentially extends the PTC for two years because it generally takes 18-24 months to develop a project.

In addition the cellulosic biofuel producer and the biodiesel tax credits have been extended through 2013.  The reinstatement of the tax credits for biodiesel and renewable diesel for 2012 and 2013 are expected to free up investment capital that had been awaiting signals as to what approach Congress would take in regards to the industry tax incentives.

The farm bill extension in the final agreement, however, was not the one preferred by Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Stabenow, House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R – OK) and ranking Democrat Collin Peterson (D – MN).  In the waning days of the 112th Congress the members referenced above had proposed a farm bill extension that included disaster assistance, dairy reforms (in the form of the Dairy Security Act) and a reduction in direct payments.

Copyright © 2013 RDL & Associates, LLC.  All rights reserved.

Work Begins Anew on 2013 Farm Bill

The timeframe for action on the farm bill remains fluid and long-time observers of farm bill politics have never seen anything like the paralysis that has gripped the process over the past few months.  Although both the Senate and House Agriculture committees have a foundation from which to work in crafting the 2013 Farm Bill, procedurally their work must begin anew with the onset of the 113th Congress.

In the House of Representatives the landscape remains full of obstacles and the atmosphere has been poisoned by the failure of the GOP leadership to bring the farm bill passed by House Agriculture Committee to the House floor for consideration during the waning days of the 112th Congress.  For example, Representative Collin Peterson (D – MN) – the ranking Democrat on the committee – recently sent a letter to House Republican leadership outlining his frustrations with how the farm bill process has played out thus far.

In his letter Mr. Peterson indicates that he sees “no reason why the House Agriculture Committee should undertake the fool’s errand to craft another long-term farm bill if the Republican Leadership refuses to give any assurances that our bipartisan work will be considered.”  He went on to note that  “You and your Leadership team seem very content with simply extending the 2008 Farm Bill year after year without making any effort at reform, achieving savings and efficiencies, or improving the farm safety net for rural America. If that is your goal, I will certainly accommodate you.”

Prospects for passage of a 2013 Farm Bill appear more positive in the Senate.  Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Debbie Stabenow (D – MI) has indicated she will work to markup a five-year farm bill in February.

Although the Upper Chamber has a number of new members, Senator Mike Johanns (R – NE) is confident the Senate Agriculture Committee can advance a five-year farm bill out of committee that can be passed by the full Senate.  In a recent Agri-Pulse interview, Mr. Johanns noted that the bills developed by Congress last year likely contain enough spending reductions to satisfy a reduced baseline.  In the end, he believes spending reductions for the final product will be in the range of $25 billion.

A substantive change in the leadership of the Senate Agriculture Committee is worth mentioning.  Whereas Senator Pat Roberts (R – KS) had served as the Ranking Republican on the committee during the 112th Congress, that seat will now be occupied by Senator Thad Cochran (R – MS).  Mr. Cochran, chairman of the committee from 2003 – 2005, has seniority over Mr. Roberts and had made the decision to assert that privilege at the onset of the 113th Congress.

The change is noteworthy in that Mr. Roberts has traditionally been an opponent of the target price provisions contained in the version of the farm bill that had passed the House Agriculture Committee last year, whereas Mr. Cochran tends to have a philosophical alignment on commodity payment mechanisms with House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R – OK) and the ranking Democrat on the committee, Mr. Peterson.

Copyright © 2013 RDL & Associates, LLC.  All rights reserved.

Congress Delays Difficult Spending Decisions

As the clock struck midnight for the 112th Congress, the United States House of Representatives followed the lead of their Senate counterparts and passed the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012, the fiscal cliff compromise legislation that had been hammered out by Vice-President Joe Biden and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R – KY).

The overall agreement raises approximately $620 billion over the next ten years, with tax rates permanently raised to 39.6 percent for individuals earning more than $400,000/year and couples earning more than $450,000/year.  In addition, capital gains and dividends are permanently set at 20 percent for individuals earning more than $400,000/year and couples earning more than $450,000/year – with rates for all other earners remaining at 15 percent.

Of consequence to the agriculture sector, the estate tax is permanently set at a $5 million exemption for individuals indexed for inflation – with a $10 million exemption for couples, at a 40 percent rate (compared to the previous rate of 35 percent.  This is in sharp contrast to the $1 million exemption and 55 percent rate that would have kicked in had Congress taken no action.  Stepped-up basis is already permanent law and will continue.

When it came to the $1.6 trillion in automatic “sequestration” budget reductions that would have begun in January, the leadership chose to punt the ball into the current congress.  By delaying politically charged spending reductions until March 1, 2013 the public will again be witness to political and philosophical gamesmanship.

Copyright © 2013 RDL & Associates, LLC.  All rights reserved.

RDL & Associates: Part of the FedState Network

As we head into 2013 the new 113th Congress has inherited a long “To Do” list from their predecessors.  As such, RDL & Associates would welcome the opportunity to visit with you as to how we might be of assistance to you or your organization in managing and protecting your “political capital” at the Federal level.

In addition to the ongoing debate as to what should be included in what is now the 2013 Farm Bill, we can expect to see a number of issues to be debated that will have an impact on agriculture and rural America.  For example, action is expected on the following:

Animal Antibiotics

The 113th Congress is expected to reauthorize the Animal Drug User Act of 2004.  Consideration of this legislation put the issue of animal antibiotics back “on the radar” and the animal agriculture sector should expects activists to view reauthorization as an opportunity to

Of note is a proposal by Representative Louise Slaughter (D – NY).  Known as the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act (PAMTA), the proposed legislation would phase-out the use of antibiotics in animals in cases when the medication is not used to treat sick animals.  According to Representative Slaughter, “habitual use of antibiotics has been conclusively linked to the growing risk of antimicrobial-resistant infections in humans,”.

Immigration Reform

With President Obama indicating that he will make immigration reform a priority in the upcoming year, we can expect a push by Congress this to make substantial changes to the Labor Department’s H-2A program, which provides an uncapped amount of visas to seasonal farm laborers.

Renewable Fuels Standard

According to Capitol Hill sources, House Agriculture Committee Vice Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R – VA) intends to reintroduce legislation this year to repeal the federal Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) and the issue is likely to continue to be front-and-center in the months that lie ahead.

Regulatory Issues

It is likely that climate change will again be a key issue in during President Obama’s second term. During a post-election speech at the Farm Journal Forum, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said, “While there may be a debate in some folks’ mind about the cause, there is no question that the climate is indeed changing,” citing storms along the East Coast, drought in the Great Plains and wildfires in the West as examples of the phenomenon.

Among the suggested rules that have been “on hold” but will now likely move forward; a possible expansion of regulated waters under the Clean Water Act (CWA), additional greenhouse gas regulations and the farm dust rule.

These are only a sampling of the issues agriculture will face in the 113th Congress.  As the Minnesota-based member of Aronnax Public Strategies “FedState Network”, RDL & Associates is part of a unique governmental affairs model that provides clients with a seamless combination of federal advocacy from APS and state-based advocacy from some of the most influential and respected state-based government affairs firms in the country.

The FedState Network approach creates additional opportunities and efficiencies, providing clients with a true team approach that integrates various business and policy goals when it comes to their government relations needs. RDL & Associates and Aronnax Public Strategies focus on both politics and policy, representing interests in agriculture, energy and environment, transportation, economic development, homeland security, tax policy and long-term financing.

The enhanced federal and state collaboration of the FedState Network allows APS to join with RDL & Associates to coordinate projects and responses to joint proposals. State clients will also benefit from the ability to use Capitol Hill and APS resources for lobby days and meetings on Capitol Hill.

Please feel free to contact Dave Ladd, President of RDL & Associates at daveladd66@gmail.com if are interested in enhancing or supplementing your current legislative representation.

Cochran Selected as Senate Agriculture Committee Ranking Member (via Agri-Pulse)

Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., asserted his seniority today and was selected to take over as ranking GOP member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry.

The current ranking member, Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., told Agri-Pulse that Sen. Cochran “has his full support” and that “seniority is a well-respected and historic privilege in the U.S. Senate.”

Cochran received the unanimous support of Republican committee members. Next, the full Senate Republican Conference must approve the selection in the coming weeks.

For weeks, rumors have circulated that Cochran would challenge Roberts for the top slot, forcing a potential vote in committee. If Roberts won that vote, as expected, Cochran could take the challenge to the full GOP caucus where he would likely prevail.

Cochran said, in a statement, that he was pleased with the opportunity to serve as ranking member.

“I will use the experiences I’ve gained in serving on the committee since 1979 to help quickly advance a new farm bill that will meet the needs of our country’s farmers, small businesses, and those who rely on the nutrition programs under the committee’s jurisdiction,” Cochran said. “I look forward to working with [Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich.]”

Cochran previously served as committee chairman from 2003 to 2005. He plans to continue to serve on the Senate Rules Committee.

Roberts said he will “continue to remain as a strong champion for agriculture” and will retain his Senate Finance Committee seat. “As a senior member of this committee, I am able to affect trade policy, especially ag trade, tax reform, and rural health care.”

Roberts said this action also “allows me to assert my seniority as the ranking member of the Rules Committee. This committee will become increasingly important as I expect to play a very vigorous role in defense of minority rights, which are under attack by the Democrat Majority Leader, as well as top line issues like campaign finance reform and federal election law.”

“My message to Kansas farmers and ranchers is that I will continue to be your voice and your champion at every turn,” Roberts emphasized.

Kansans had also enjoyed having a member on the House Agriculture Committee; however, Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, recently removed Kansas Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kan., from that post.

Asked whether or not the dynamics of writing a new farm bill will change with Cochran leading GOP members on the committee, Roberts insisted he will still have leverage and he cited the recent decision to extend the current farm bill as an example. Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Stabenow, along with House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas and Ranking Democrat Collin Peterson had proposed a farm bill extension package last weekend that included disaster assistance, dairy reforms and a reduction in direct payments to pay for the changes.

“You had three people who wanted to move that kind of bill and one who didn’t,” Roberts said of his view on the modified extension package.

Ultimately, Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who brokered the final tax and extension package with Vice President Joe Biden, cited concerns about raising a budget point of order and went with a straight farm bill extension instead – ignoring the committee chairmen’s wishes.

But Roberts, who has adamantly opposed some of the target price provisions proposed in the House Agriculture Committee’s version of the 2012 farm bill, will now be replaced by a southerner who is much more likely to go along with Chairman Lucas and Ranking member Collin Peterson on the commodity title.

Farm organizations were just starting to react to the change in GOP leadership on the committee – even though it had been widely rumored  for weeks.

“The Crop Insurance and Reinsurance Bureau thanks Senator Pat Roberts for his outstanding service as ranking member of the Senate Agriculture Committee in the 112th Congress and looks forward to working with Senator Thad Cochran to preserve and protect crop insurance as he assumes the post in this new Congress,” noted Michael Torrey, Executive Vice President, Michael Torrey Associates.

Center for Rural Policy Releases Study Regarding Influence of rural Minnesota in Policy Discussions

The Center for Rural Policy has released a study regarding the influence of rural Minnesota on policy decisions made within the private and public sectors.  The study can be accessed by visiting http://www.ruralmn.org/publications/finding-the-voice-of-rural-minnesota/.  The media release is included below:

__________________________________________________________________________________

Rural Minnesota Losing its Policy Voice, says New Study

Agenda of New Legislature Underscores the Challenges to Rural Minnesota

ST. PETER, MINN (Jan. 3, 2013)— There is consensus that rural Minnesota has lost influence in policy decisions made in the public and private sectors. What is less clear is how the region regains its voice in the face of a declining and aging population, a smaller legislative delegation and an economy in transition.

These findings are included in a study released today by the Center for Rural Policy and Development (CRPD). The research included in-depth interviews with policy and business leaders, an online survey of Minnesotans involved in rural issues and a review of news media coverage. The research was conducted by Horner Strategies, LLC.

The Minnesota legislature, which will convene Tuesday (Jan. 8), will be dealing with issues that are critical to rural Minnesota’s future, according to Brad Finstad, executive director of CRPD.  “This year’s agenda could include major reforms in tax, health and education policies, transportation funding and a possible bonding bill,” said Finstad. “The decisions made in each of these areas are critical to making the most of rural Minnesota’s opportunities and addressing our challenges. Rural Minnesota can’t be on the sidelines when these decisions are made. If rural falls behind the rest of the state on measures of economic and cultural success, the whole state will suffer,” said Finstad.

Rural Minnesota already has higher rates of poverty – especially childhood poverty – than the state as a whole. In addition, rural Minnesota counties have an older population and a more fragile economic base than counties with metro areas or regional centers.

However, these differences often are ignored in policy discussions. The CRPD study found that statewide organizations with the greatest influence focus more and more of their attention on the Twin Cities and regional communities. Meanwhile, many of those participating in the research noted that fewer Minnesotans have a direct tie to rural communities and lifestyles. Urban residents don’t understand the rural economy “and the fact that many aspects of the rural economy are essential to making their urban lifestyles work,” said one research participant.

A key finding is that there are fewer leaders or organizations who are dominant and effective voices on behalf of broad rural Minnesota issues. Some traditional voices – including agriculture groups – have lost influence as natural resources and other Greater Minnesota industries are a smaller part of Minnesota’s economy.

Influence also is diminished as advocacy of rural Minnesota becomes more fragmented. “Rural communities often end up competing more aggressively with each other than joining forces to compete as a region,” said the report. “Local chambers of commerce are recognized as important voices in rural Minnesota. However, they are under increasing pressure to deliver for their own communities. The incentives important to a chamber of commerce—retaining members and a local financial base—place greater emphasis on bringing a handful of jobs to a small community than on joining forces to compete for a regional win.”

The research – which was conducted during fall 2012 – echoes comments made last month by U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. Speaking to a farm forum, Vilsack said that rural issues and concerns are “becoming less and less relevant to the politics of this country, and we had better recognize that and we better begin to reverse it.”

“Vilsack’s message is this study’s message,” said Finstad. “The eroding influence of rural Minnesota is making it more difficult to solve our area’s challenges and to take advantage of the region’s economic opportunities. “Rural Minnesota needs to come together to figure out how to have a relevant voice in all these conversations.”

CRPD is based in St. Peter. It promotes rural opportunity by creating research-based information and insights that guide public and private decision-makers on policies essential to the region’s long-term economic and cultural success.

###

Farm Bill Extension Is Added to Fiscal Agreement (via Roll Call)

The package worked out between Senate leaders and the White House to avert the fiscal cliff include provisions to extend current farm law for the rest of fiscal 2013, avoiding a scenario that could lead to a doubling of milk prices.

The extension of programs in the 2008 farm law, which expired in September, represents a trimmed-down version of a plan proposed by Senate and House Agriculture committee leaders this weekend. Instead, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., offered a plan that would extend a dairy program that producers want to replace and would not include disaster assistance, according to a Senate aide.

The plan also would not fund energy provisions and other expired programs that were in the 2008 farm bill (PL 110-246), the aide says, a decision that Senate Agriculture Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., called “absolutely outrageous.”

“Without consultation with me or the chairman in the House, we now have a partial extension,” she said in an angry speech on the Senate floor. “They not only do not extend all the titles, but they do not include critical disaster assistance.”

Even so, Stabenow said after a meeting with Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Senate Democrats that she would vote for the fiscal cliff package to prevent tax increases and expiration of unemployment benefits.

The agreement that Stabenow and House Agriculture Chairman Frank D. Lucas, R-Okla., had worked out would provide nearly $850 million in disaster aid and set up a new dairy revenue support program known as the Dairy Security Act. The disaster aid, under the committees’ deal, would be funded by a small cut in the annual direct payments that go to grain and cotton growers.

Stabenow said she and Lucas, realizing that House Agriculture’s five-year bill (HR 6083) would not be brought to the floor, decided to join together to write an extension that could still do a lot of what they originally wanted from a farm bill. She said McConnell’s decision to trim back their effort showed that “agriculture is just not a priority.”

“Where is the willingness to support farmers and ranchers across the country?” she asked. “We know we need to get things done, but we also need to make sure that in the end, we are not putting agriculture, farmers and ranchers, at a disadvantage in the process.”

McConnell’s plan, according to the Senate aide, would extend the Milk Income Loss Contract program at lower rates that took effect in September. At those rates, the program would provide no payments to farmers in 2013, said Dana Brooks, a lobbyist for the National Milk Producers Federation, which has been working to pass the new Dairy Security Act program.

After a meeting of Senate Agriculture members Monday afternoon, Sen. Mike Johanns, R-Neb., indicated that the committees’ plan faced a potential point of order in the Senate because of the way it would fund an extension of expired farm bill programs.

Stabenow dismissed that concern, saying the larger fiscal deal could draw many points of order once it reaches the floor.

House leaders also have posted a one-month extension of federal dairy support programs that could be voted on if farm provisions do not survive the fiscal cliff deal.