Commentary: Deck Congress’ halls

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Editor's Note: Bob Stallman, a rice and cattle producer from Columbus, Texas, is president of the American Farm Bureau Federation.

In the political arena, December is typically a down time. This especially holds true when new congressional members have just been elected and the previous Congress is in lame duck mode. But, if Congress doesn’t act soon on several significant outstanding items, all of our gooses will be cooked.

Before we even think about throwing on the Yule Log, we need to get our legislative house in order. If Congress doesn’t make some important decisions before Jan. 1, the U.S. economy will drop off what is being termed the “fiscal cliff.” A plan needs to be hatched to cut $1.2 trillion over the next 10 years from the deficit, something of which Congress has known about for awhile.

If Congress doesn’t act by the end of the year, automatic, across-the-board government cuts will kick in, affecting more than 1,000 federal programs, many of which will impact agriculture. For example, all commodity and many conservation programs will be cut by 7.6 percent next year. And agriculture research, Extension activities, food safety and rural economic development programs are just a few others that will be cut by 8.2 percent in 2013. Crop insurance will survive the first year, but will likely face cuts in year two.

While all Americans will feel the impact, the cuts will slice right through rural America, which is so dependent on Extension services and rural development.

With Boughs of Folly

The fiscal cliff will also impact tax breaks. An important one for farmers is the estate tax, which will revert from a $5 million exemption at a 35 percent tax rate to a $1 million exemption with a top tax rate of 55 percent. This could impact one out of every 10 farms and make it almost impossible for young farmers to carry on their family operations.

The capital gains tax rate also will increase come Jan. 1, from 15 percent to 20 percent. This, too, will greatly impact farmers. Because capital gains taxes are imposed when buildings and farmland are typically sold or transferred to new or expanding farmers, it will become more difficult for farmers to shed their assets or upgrade their businesses.

Congress has a lot on its holiday plate during the next several weeks. By the way, did I mention that we still don’t have a farm bill? But, that’s a topic for another day, maybe over eggnog...

Until then, have a happy and safe holiday season.


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