Adams asked specifically about the estate tax, and Vilsack says the exemption needs to be raised to a point where family farms and small businesses are not threatened with sale or disrupted when ownership passes to the next generation. He says the President does not believe Bill Gates or Warren Buffet deserve tax breaks, but understands and appreciates that family farmers of this country do. The administration is encouraging congress to raise the exemption level significantly so that family farms and small businesses do not need to worry.
Adams asked the Secretary if the administration favors eliminating the estate tax altogether, and he answered no, the President does not intend to provide tax breaks to billionaires, but does want to protect family farms and small-business owners.Adams pointed out that farmers and ranchers have become increasingly concerned about over-regulation, particularly by other government agencies such as the EPA and the Labor Department. Vilsack says the administration has worked hard to ensure the USDA’s sister agencies understand and appreciate the impact new rules will have on family farms and ranches. He has scheduled meetings between cabinet secretaries and commodity groups, and arranged for the EPA Administrator to visit farms, see how they work and how regulations could affect them.
Communication is critical between agencies, he says, and USDA’s efforts have helped resolve some issues and prevent new regulations from other agencies. For example, he says, EPA recently issued a guidance on water issues instead of actual rules, in part because USDA convinced them farmers and ranchers are responsible stewards of the land and water. The President is very clear in that he wants agencies to work together, Vilsack says. He initiated the Rural Council, which Vilsack chairs, to coordinate and integrate efforts between agencies involved in rural issues. He expects those abilities to be enhanced in a second Obama term.
Adams noted that eventual passage of a farm bill likely will include significant budget cuts, requiring the USDA to do more with less. Vilsack responded by returning to the tax issue, saying that if the government cuts taxes for billionaires, they then need to either cut the budget or add to the deficit. The administration would rather tax the richest Americans than deal with “draconian cuts to farm programs.” The Ryan budget, he notes, calls for $50 billion in cuts to crop insurance, conservation and commodities programs, which he says, seems a bit steep.