The importance of agriculture to Wisconsin cannot be understated. Milk, corn, cattle, and soybeans are just a few of the products that come from the more than 15 million acres of farmland in Wisconsin.
Dairy Product Price Support Program (DPPSP) & Milk Income Loss Contract (MILC) Program
In 2009, declining farm milk prices forced Congress to modify existing federal programs that support dairy for our nation's farmers. Last year, the federal government spent more than $1 billion to support the industry through the Milk Income Loss Contract Program, the Dairy Product Price Support Program, and the Dairy Export Incentive Program. Additionally, Congress authorized $350 million in supplemental payments to dairy farmers and government purchases of dairy products.
The preliminary February 2010 all-milk price reported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture was $15.90 per hunderweight, which marks an increase of 37% from February 2009. However, the financial stress facing the dairy industry in 2011 is cause for concern and I look forward to working closely with my colleagues in the House to address this issue.
Farm Bill Update
The farm bill is the most important piece of legislation affecting our nation's farmers. It sets policy and covers a wide range of programs, including price support programs, conservation programs and nutrition assistance. The 2008 Farm Bill was enacted into law on June 18, 2008, and most provisions extend through 2012 when a new farm bill will be considered.
In Wisconsin, the importance of agriculture to our economy cannot be overstated. There were many changes in the 2008 Farm Bill that will affect our agriculture sector. Several specific programs important to Wisconsin's dairy program were changed -- the milk income loss contract program (MILC); the dairy price support program (DPSP); and the federal milk marketing order program. Specifically, in the MILC program the payment percentage rate increased to 45%, from a previous level of 34%. Additionally, due to rapidly increasing feed costs, it allows the target price to be adjusted in response to rising feed costs.
I believe a farm bill should be designed to assist family farmers in times of need, rather than direct most of the subsidies to very large, corporate farming operations. We need to pass a farm bill that also gives the U.S. the ability to open up new export markets for our products. During consideration of the 2008 Farm Bill, I offered a bipartisan amendment which would have adopted the USDA's proposals to make the marketing loan program more efficient and market oriented and included no tax increases. This amendment would have also shifted savings into deficit reduction and provided more funding for conservation and nutrition programs. Finally, the amendment would have addressed trade distorting subsidies. While the amendment was not adopted, I hope to pursue similar proposals during the next farm bill authorization.
I have always believed that people who have worked hard their whole lives to build up successful farms or a business should be able to pass these on intact to their children and grandchildren -- without Washington's interference. Last December the Obama Administration and Congressional leaders were able to reach an agreement to address the looming expiration of the 2001 and 2003 tax relief measures, including the estate tax. In the agreement, the estate tax is held at 35% with a $5 million exemption. For the first time, this exemption is pegged to inflation, ensuring that no one faces an unintended tax hike in the coming years.
I have long supported a full and permanent repeal of the estate tax because I do not believe that death should be a taxable event, and because it acts as a direct, job-killing tax on family-owned farms and small businesses, which created nearly 70 percent of jobs over the last decade. For these reasons, I have introduced legislation that would permanently repeal the estate tax. As I continue to work towards permanent repeal, I believe that the rates reached in H.R. 4853 are more conducive to economic growth than allowing the estate tax to revert to 55 percent.
Rising Health Savings Costs
The high cost of health insurance is one of the leading problems facing individuals and small business owners, including farmers. Unfortunately, the health care reform bill the President signed into law does not control costs and will not reduce deficits. H.R. 3590, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is filled with measures designed to game the cost estimates and fulfill the President's deficit pledge. Much is made of the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) scores on deficit reduction, but the reality is that this bill violates the President's promise that this legislation will "not add a dime to the deficit."
Rather than provide the CBO with an honest bill, the authors of the healthcare bill gamed the legislation to get the cost estimate they sought -- 10 years of tax increases and Medicare cuts to pay for six years of spending. The bill double counts savings from Medicare cuts, Social Security taxes and long-term care insurance premiums. Simply put it is shell games and smoke and mirrors. Instead of getting a grip on skyrocketing costs, this legislation creates a brand new open-ended entitlement at a time when we are unable to pay for our current unsustainable entitlement programs. This overhaul imposes job-killing tax hikes on all Americans at a time when we desperately need to get sustained job creation and economic growth going again. Most importantly, this legislation fails to improve the quality, affordability, and accessibility of health care in America.
The entire architecture of this plan is designed to give the government greater control over what kind of insurance is available, how much health care is enough, and which treatments are worth paying for. It mandates that individuals purchase government approved health insurance or face a fine, which will be enforced by one of over 10,000 new IRS agents. Employers are mandated to provide government approved health insurance or face stiff penalties. If they do not offer health coverage, the business must pay $2,000 per employee. If they do offer coverage but an employee decides to take the federal subsidy, then the fine is $3,000 per employee. Ultimately, penalizing businesses in this manner will encourage employers to drop coverage and dump employees into a government controlled exchange rather than pay the increased rates associated with this mandate. This bill and the mandates within it are a dramatic step away from true choice and competition to a Washington-controlled health care system that limits choice and reduces quality, innovation, and competition.
We all agree that meaningful health care reform is long overdue, but it is clear that Washington's trillion-dollar, two-thousand page overhaul will not only fail to address what's broken in health care -- but will actually make matters worse. The American people deserve a serious debate. We should be asking how can we take the over $2 trillion already spent on health care in this country and spend it more efficiently and effectively. To address this, I introduced the Patients' Choice Act of 2009. The Patients' Choice Act of 2009 transforms health care in America by strengthening the relationship between the patient and the doctor; using choice and competition rather than rationing and restrictions to contain costs; and ensuring universal, affordable health care for all Americans. The Patients' Choice Act promotes innovative, State-based solutions, along with fundamental reforms in the tax code, to give every American, regardless of employment status, age, or health condition, the ability and the resources to purchase health insurance. The comprehensive legislation includes concrete prevention and transparency initiatives, long overdue reforms to Medicare and Medicaid, investments in wellness programs and health IT, and more.