Obama, Romney Campaigns Debate Ag Issues


by Chris Clayton, DTN Ag Policy Editor

DES MOINES (DTN) — Democratic President Barack Obama has supported rural America as farmers achieved record income over the past four years — or is “anti-agriculture” and helped induce an unprecedented regulatory burden on rural America.

Republican Mitt Romney will wreck the rural economy and cut meaningful rural programs — or will unleash greater prosperity by stopping new regulations on farmers and businesses while more aggressively championing free-trade deals.

Those were the stark contrasts for farmers as surrogates for both campaigns debated the candidates' positions on agricultural and rural issues Wednesday before a group largely consisting of members of the National Association of State Directors of Agriculture.

Sen. Mike Johanns, R-Neb., a former U.S. agriculture secretary under the last Bush administration, debated former Iowa Lt. Gov. Patty Judge, a Democrat who also served eight years as Iowa's agriculture secretary.

The debate came as farm groups also lobbied Wednesday in Washington to push lawmakers to adopt a new five-year farm bill, although House leaders seem intent on delaying any floor debate on the farm bill until after the presidential election.

In advocating for Obama, Judge cited the overall strength of the rural economy over the past four years and a $45 billion trade surplus in 2011 — actually $42.9 billion. Judge was critical of Romney for not supporting the wind energy production tax credit that could expire at the end of the year. She also said Obama has been fighting to get a five-year farm bill passed while Romney has supported his running mate Paul Ryan's proposal, which calls for steeper cuts than the Senate or House versions of the farm bill.

Judge said Republican leaders in the House, including Ryan, continue to block the farm bill by declining to bring it to the floor for a debate. She added Ryan's budget plan also cut rural economic programs and tries to ask rural America to shoulder a disproportionate share of program cuts.

“In fact, if the Romney-Ryan budget were implemented across the federal budget as proposed, hundreds of thousands of rural families would go without investments to support clean water, and rural communities would be denied investments in facilities such as hospitals,” Judge said.

She added, “Romney would put the rural economy at risk.”

Johanns set a tone by commenting on Obama, “I don't use this term lightly — but he has been anti-agriculture.”

Johanns cited agriculture's regulatory battles with Obama over the past few years, ranging from particulate matter, or farm dust — though no regulatory change was ever actually proposed — to the administration's support of the estate tax, the failed climate change legislation and the healthcare law, which initially included a provision requiring businesses to issue 1099 forms for all sales over $600. Johanns also cited complaints about EPA flyovers of livestock operations, noting every member of the Nebraska congressional delegation wrote Jackson asking for an explanation. “To this day, Lisa Jackson has refused to answer that letter,” Johanns said.

Later on, Johanns suggested the White House Office of Management and Budget is sitting on more potential regulations waiting until the election is over to release them.

Judge dismissed Johanns on that point while clarifying there are no drones out there checking on farmers and EPA flyovers of farms actually began under the Bush administration. “I don't believe they (Obama officials) are sitting out there with a fistful of regulations just waiting for the election,” she countered.

On the farm bill, Johanns said both the House and Senate have made cuts and differences will be worked out once negotiations begin on a conference report. Still, that won't come quickly, he said. “The key element is to get it right and recognize we are going to have to cut some spending.”

The senator also repeatedly noted during the debate that Romney favors eliminating the estate tax. Obama has supported returning to a $3.5 million exemption with a 45{6b02cb02835b82b7f756ddf6717aaab7139b350de274ea97f5b53eb230607107} tax rate. Currently, the exemption is $5 million and the rate is 35{6b02cb02835b82b7f756ddf6717aaab7139b350de274ea97f5b53eb230607107}, but those provisions expire at the end of the year.

Despite signing the Colombia, Panama and South Korean free-trade agreements, Johanns said trade also has been a weak spot for Obama. He hasn't reached deals on any new trade agreements and hasn't asked Congress for trade promotion authority, but Romney would. Johanns said he wouldn't expect any further FTAs from the Obama administration. “They aren't a pro-trade group,” he noted.


© Copyright 2012 DTN/The Progressive Farmer, A Telvent Brand. All rights reserved.

Posted with DTN Permission by Haylie Shipp



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