There's a saying you should never turn over programs to non-believers. I wouldn't want to accuse the Bush administration of not believing in farm programs, especially now that we've turned the page into a sparkling new year.
But you have to wonder given the dearth of farm program announcements just how much priority the Office of Management and Budget and USDA are giving to the regulations needed to implement the new farm bill.
Congress passed the Food, Conservation and Energy Act over opposition from the Bush administration on June 18. Even after two vetoes of the bill by President Bush, administration officials promised to implement the five-year farm legislation as quickly as possible.
As a group of commodity organizations pointed out in a letter to Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer and other administration leaders, the law required that implementing regulations be issued within 90 days of enactment.
The Agriculture Department has put out a few of those, but the important ones — including signup for direct and counter-cyclical payments — appear to be sitting on someone's desk at OMB. (The law also says USDA was supposed to offer farmers a 22-percent advance direct payment beginning Dec. 1.)
Someone's also sitting on the new rules for “actively engaged” and for the new adjusted gross income ceilings for farm payments. Schafer told reporters covering the World Food Prize event in Des Moines, Iowa, in mid-October he had submitted those to the White House.
Some officials are embarrassed by the delays. Farm Services Agency Administrator Teresa Lasseter told participants at the USA Rice Outlook Conference Dec. 8 she had expected to be able to discuss the new regulations with them — but couldn't.
Lasseter did comment on another issue — the latest attempt by the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal to tar and feather farmers with another report of improper payments to unqualified individuals.
Editorial writers for the Post and the Journal tried to use comments by President-elect Barack Obama to make it sound like he would crack down on payments to millionaire farmers after he takes office, although Obama said no such thing.
Lasseter, who started her career in a county ASCS office, asked audience members to help FSA with its recordkeeping. “Most of these weren't improper payments; it was a problem with the documentation,” she said. “Example: Someone forgot to tell the farmer that their Aunt Susie, who was receiving payments, had died.”
Lasseter participated in a panel on farm bill implementation moderated by former Congressman Larry Combest, one of the principal authors of the 2002 farm bill, that included presentations by Renee Hubbard, a CPA from Alabama, and David Bridgforth and Tim Kelleher, attorneys from Arkansas and California.
Combest drew a laugh when he said a Journal article on the auto industry bailout legislation he read didn't contain a single reference to an adjusted gross income cap for any of the proposed recipients.