Adam Nielsen, Illinois Farm Bureau’s director of national legislation and policy development, gives a national legislative update at the Illinois Agricultural Legislative Roundtable.
Adam Nielsen, Illinois Farm Bureau’s director of national legislation and policy development, gives a national legislative update at the Illinois Agricultural Legislative Roundtable.
BLOOMINGTON, Ill. — One of the biggest shockers of the “fiscal cliff” outcome was the farm bill’s one-year extension, according to the Illinois Farm Bureau’s director of national legislation and policy development.

“It wasn’t the one-year extension or the short-term extension that the House leadership had thrown together in the last week. It wasn’t the extension that the Senate and the ag committees had agreed upon that would go forward,” said Adam Nielsen.

“No, it was something that came out of the negotiations between Sen. Mitch McConnell and Vice President Joe Biden. I don’t think it was anything we anticipated, but we ended up with a one-year extension, getting things that we didn’t want to get and not getting a lot that we did want to see.”

Nielsen gave a national legislative update at the Illinois Agricultural Legislative Roundtable hosted by IFB on Jan. 9.

The farm bill’s extension left more questions than answers.

“There were a lot of authorizations, but no money in the one-year extension, Nielsen said.

“There was a milk program that nobody wanted, particularly Rep. (Collin) Peterson, who had spent a lot of time trying to bring everybody in the industry together on a new milk program. That did not get passed, and we have a little bit of the old coming forward.

“We’ll see direct payments. I think, looking back, it’s nice to be able to say that was not something that we wanted to see in the farm bill, particularly since a lot of the media questions that I get relate to the direct payments and the extension of them.

“We can say we didn’t want them. We ended getting them. We may not get them — there is still plenty of time for it to change, but we’ve got to assume that they could be made here at the end of the year.”

Agriculture groups have been working with congressional delegates for about a year and one-half to help develop a new farm bill that include a deficit reduction, and Nielsen said he was hopeful that the legislation was going to pass.

“I had a high amount of optimism that Congress would do the right thing and get a five-year bill passed, so it was very, very disappointing to not see that happen,” he said.

“But I think we can still hang our hat on the deficit-reduction piece. That is still resonating very well. It certainly is with news media. I think it will with the new Congress in both the House and the Senate.”

The first “fiscal cliff” focused on the tax side, and the next will aim at spending.

“They will be looking for programs that are ready-made to provide savings, and, of course, the five-year farm bill should be at the top of that list and that will be something we are talking about for the next few months,” Nielsen said.

“It’s all about spending. It’s all about deficit reduction. Congress will emerge from one crisis to the next. In the meantime, we will try to fill in the blanks with some of the other issues we’ve been working on.

“We will do whatever we can to offer up a five-year farm bill as a potential savings, something that we can hang our hat on.

“In the meantime, just as a feared, more media attention is being put on farm programs. We knew if the farm bill lingered into this year, it wasn’t going to be any easier for us — it was going to be tougher.

“We don’t know how much money we are going to have to work with. The Congressional Budget Office will come out with that number in the next several weeks. We hope we can maintain our baseline, but in all likelihood it will go down.

“We don’t know what we’re going to be wanting as part of that five-year farm bill. I think that’s still up in the air and is something that all of the groups need to discus as we go forward and what should be in that bill. We know that it won’t be direct payments, but what will be there.”

One farm bill issue that agriculture agrees with is crop insurance.

“Crop insurance is vitally important. Crop insurance is the No. 1 priority for the Illinois Farm Bureau, as I know it also is for other associations, too,” Nielsen said.

Six new members have joined the Illinois legislative delegation. In addition, a primary election will be held next month for another seat representing the Chicago area.

“We’re going to try to work as hard as we can. We’re going to try to bring our three new members of the House Agriculture Committee up to speed on what we’ve asked for, what’s happened and why we’re where we’re at and be there as resources for them as we move forward,” Nielsen said.

As many were gearing up to ring in the New Year, Nielsen was closely monitoring developments on Capitol Hill and the looming “fiscal cliff.”

“The Senate voted overwhelmingly to get the fiscal cliff deal started in motion. I felt at the time that the vote was one-sided enough and bipartisan enough that there would be no question that the House would follow suit the next day,” he said.

On New Year’s Day, it was reported that the House was considering an amendment to the legislation passed by the Senate.

“Of course, there was no Senate that would come back into session. They had all gone home, fortunately, and so the House came to its senses and passed the fiscal cliff deal. There some pros and some cons as part of the legislation,” Nielsen said.

“It was great they were able to address the estate tax and to help families be able to transfer assets from one generation to the next. There was a lot of uncertainty headed toward New Year’s Eve and what this next year would hold in terms of the estate tax and a lot of last-minute planning.

“Fortunately, we got some answers there. They say it is a permanent deal, and we hope very much that it is a permanent deal.”