When Congress returns to Washington after the election, we have a long list of items to address before the end of the year. One of the biggest priorities, especially for Nebraska producers, will be passing a responsible Farm Bill to prevent a lapse in policy. Congress also must act to prevent the largest tax hike in American history before the current rates expire on January 1, 2013.
The Farm Bill expired on September 30, and Congress has not yet passed a new bill or an extension. It is important to note while the bill expired, there has not been an immediate lapse in most farm programs. The Continuing Resolution passed by Congress in September funds most Farm Bill provisions through the end of March 2013, including the crop insurance program. While some programs do need to be reauthorized, commodity programs are not immediately impacted because the 2008 Farm Bill covers these programs through the 2012 crop year.
The urgency to pass a Farm Bill does not mean Congress should rush through an irresponsible bill. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps) accounts for 80 percent of the cost of the Farm Bill, and would result in nearly $1 trillion in spending over the next ten years. At a time when Americans are demanding reforms to reduce spending, it is reasonable to make modest changes to the nutrition title to cut costs without affecting families in need. The House should pass amendments to reduce spending on the nutrition title before sending a bill to a conference committee where a compromise with the Senate can take place.
Another major issue of concern to Nebraskans and all Americans is the tax increase set to take effect on January 1, 2013 when the current rates expire. Without action, this tax increase would be the largest in American history. Two years ago, President Obama and a bipartisan majority in Congress extended current rates to prevent damage to a weak economy. Our economy remains sluggish today, and raising taxes on any American now would only make things worse.
To prevent the tax increase and the immediate harm it would cause families, small businesses and the economy as a whole, Congress should extend the current rates for all Americans. However, we cannot continue playing chicken with tax rates every two years. Businesses and families need to have stable and predictable tax rates to have confidence to budget and invest.
To prevent another short-term extension of tax rates, Congress should pass a fast-track authority to complete tax reform in 2013. The last major overhaul of the tax code was in 1986, and broad reform is needed again to make the code more fair, simple and predictable. Fast-track authority will help ensure Congress gets the job done within the next year. As a member of the Committee on Ways and Means which is responsible for tax reform, I look forward to this process.
During the lame duck session, Congress will likely address several other pending issues, but completion of the Farm Bill and preventing the largest tax increase in American history are my most urgent priorities for produces and taxpayers.