Editor's note: The following note was written by Christine Souza, an assistant editor of Ag Alert. Ag Alert is the weekly newspaper for the California Farm Bureau Federation.
As Congress reconvened for a post-election, "lame-duck" session, farmers and ranchers are urging their representatives to work together to address pressing issues facing agriculture.
Rayne Pegg, manager of the California Farm Bureau Federation Federal Policy Division, said it is vital for Congress to resolve issues such as the farm bill and the combination of scheduled tax increases and budget cuts that has come to be known as the "fiscal cliff."
American Farm Bureau Federation President Bob Stallman also emphasized the importance of getting the work done before the end of the year.
"Farmers and ranchers, like all Americans, have a list of issues that they are relying on the administration and Congress to address. But we cannot wait until 2013 for the action to start," Stallman said. "Serious work on the farm bill, the fiscal cliff and critical tax policy fixes all must start during the lame-duck session."
The fiscal cliff of automatic, across-the-board spending cuts and the end of Bush-era tax rates that become effective on Jan. 1 pose the most pressing challenges for congressional leaders and the Obama administration.
Josh Rolph of the CFBF Federal Policy Division noted that in President Obama's first address following re-election, he said in clear terms that the wealthiest Americans would need to pay "a little more in taxes." Although House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, had previously indicated he was willing to negotiate with the president, raising taxes appears not to be an option for Republicans. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., clearly made that point in a statement, Rolph said.
"One thing seems sure: There will be a fight during the lame-duck session between a president who says he now has a mandate to raise taxes on the most wealthy, and congressional Republicans who oppose any tax hikes," said Rolph, who is the CFBF director of international trade, farm policy, taxation and plant health. "If there is a stalemate, taxes will go up for everyone beginning in January."
Unless Congress acts before the end of the year, for example, the exemption level on federal estate taxes will drop from the current $5 million to $1 million, and the tax rate will increase to 55 percent.
Farm Bureau will urge the lame-duck Congress to extend current tax policies at least temporarily, Rolph said, and will seek broader tax reform in the next Congress.