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Published July 22, 2013, 10:27 AM

‘We are mad as hell’

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack spoke to the National Corn Growers Association in Washington, urging the group to pressure House Republicans to pass a farm bill.

By: Jerry Hagstrom, Agweek

WASHINGTON — In what amounted to a lobbying pep talk, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told about 200 corn growers gathered in Washington July 17 that they should get over their rural politeness and tell House Republicans that “the nation needs a farm bill.”

National Corn Growers Association President Pam Johnson responded that her members would tell Congress, “We are mad as hell. We are not going to take this anymore. We are going to hold you accountable.”

Vilsack recalled in a speech to the group that earlier, when farm leaders said they were “extremely disappointed” that the House did not pass legislation, he had said they should express outrage. But he said rural people were too willing to be understanding when members of Congress said the job is hard.

“This is one president who is no longer saying ‘We are extremely disappointed.’”

Johnson also presented Vilsack with an award.

“Secretary Vilsack is a perfect recipient for the NCGA President’s Award,” Johnson said. “He has been a steadfast supporter and advocate for American agriculture and I am proud to call him a friend of corn. During his tenure, we have seen him work tirelessly to promote agricultural exports, create a more vibrant rural economy and strengthen the role of farmers.”

Vilsack told the corn growers that, because of American farmers’ productivity increases in recent decades, “You’re the great generation of American agriculture.”

“It does no honor to you for our political leaders not to provide the certainty of a five-year bill and demagogue” the issue, Vilsack said, urging the corn growers to remind members of Congress that farmers contribute to agricultural productivity and the economy, and that rural Americans serve in disproportionate numbers in the military.

Vilsack started off his speech with polite words about the need for a comprehensive farm bill, but seemed inspired by questions from the audience to give the corn growers lobbying and political advice.

“We as a country, as a people, need a farm bill,” Vilsack said.

Vilsack also told the corn growers to be firm about their unwillingness to accept another extension of the 2008 farm bill.

If they argue that they can do the farm bill next year, Vilsack said, “Do you really think in an election year we’re going to get it done?”

Members of Congress said last year that they might finish the bill in a lame-duck session, but that did not happen, he emphasized.

In 2015, he noted, there will be a new Congress, the process would have to start again and the focus would be on the 2016 presidential race.

With an extension, Vilsack added, there would be no reform, no deficit reduction and the direct payments program would continue.

Tell Congress, he said, that “you see an extension as failure and we’re tired of failure.”

After their day on Capitol Hill, Johnson told Agweek the corn growers found that a majority of the House members want a comprehensive bill that includes food stamps and they thanked the corn growers for taking a strong position on that issue. Johnson said the members of Congress were also confused about the status of the bill because there has been so much back and forth between the House and the Senate, but that the corn growers would continue to push for completion of the bill before the current farm bill expires on Sept. 30.

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