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Vilsack: Extension wouldn’t solve Brazil case, Reid right to oppose it

BETHESDA, Md. — Citing first of all the need to resolve the Brazil cotton case, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said today that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., was right when he said Monday that Congress should not extend the 2008 farm bill again, but Vilsack also added that farm and rural groups need to put more pressure on House members to get a new farm bill passed.

“We can’t continue to reward failure,” Vilsack told reporters after a speech to the National Rural Assembly. Reid said on the Senate floor late Monday that the Senate would not pass another extension of the 2008 farm bill and that Vilsack agreed with him.

An extension first of all doesn’t resolve the Brazil cotton case, or include a range of farm and rural programs, Vilsack said.

Members of Congress have been “griping” that the United States has been making payments of $147 million per year to Brazil to avoid higher tariffs that Brazil has the right to impose on U.S. products after a World Trade Organization ruling that the U.S. cotton program has hurt the Brazilian cotton industry, he said.

The new farm bill contains a new cotton program that the U.S. government hopes the WTO will declare within its rules.

Vilsack also noted to reporters that an extension would not provide drought aid to livestock producers, revive programs for specialty crops and organic and local farming, renew expired energy development programs, streamline conservation programs, create a new and better program for dairy farmers or help beginning and veteran farmers. An extension also would not include reform of commodity programs, he said.

The House failure last Thursday to pass the farm bill sent “a message that the House leadership and the House generally don’t want to do their job.”

An extension, Vilsack said, is “the easy way” to handle the farm bill. The ideological differences in the Senate between Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, and Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, are just as wide as those in the House, Vilsack said, but the Senate managed to get more than 60 votes for the farm bill.

“The time for excuses is over,” he said.