Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack addresses the National Rural Assembly.

Rural advocates should be outraged at the failure of the U.S. House of Representatives to pass a bipartisan farm bill, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack told the National Rural Assembly on Tuesday morning.

Instead, Vilsack said, all he’s heard is “utter disappointment,” and that’s not enough.

“What’s at stake with the farm bill?” he asked. “The lives and livelihood of 50 million Americans. And all we get from rural advocates is extreme disappointment.”

Last week the House voted down its version of the farm bill after the Senate’s version passed with bipartisan support. Vilsack, a Democratic appointee, said there needs to be more consequences for the Republican-controlled House. 

“There must be consequences for this failure, for turning their back on rural America,” he said. The Senate, like the House, has ideological divides but was still able to pass legislation, he said. “In a small town, if there is a dispute, they wouldn’t go to their corners. They would realize they are in it together and they would figure it out.”

He said rural groups need to get more involved in advocating for a better farm bill. “It’s important for groups like this to express more than extreme disappointment,” he said. “You should not be satisfied with ‘we can’t get it done, the divide was too wide.’”

Vilsack said rural America provides the bulk of the nation’s food and water and also provides recreational opportunities and jobs. He also noted that a disproportionate share of the nation’s military personnel come from rural areas. He said passing a farm bill was central to investing in rural areas. 

Other participants at the conference, however, noted that farm bill appropriations weren’t primarily about supporting rural communities but supported urban-based agriculture companies and the federal nutrition program.

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