Candidates square off over agricultural issues
Viewpoints differ on farm programs, policies, regulation
By TIM HEARDEN
As the presidential campaign enters its final month, nowhere have the two major candidates' differences in their approaches to government been more apparent than in agricultural policy.
President Barack Obama's campaign has emphasized taking steps to help rural America's economy, while former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has focused on a need to get government and excessive regulation out of the way of farmers.
To explore the candidates' positions on issues related to agriculture, the Capital Press sent questionnaires to the Obama and Romney campaigns. Here is how they responded. The answers have been edited for length and clarity.
Capital Press: Which farm programs and policies do you support?
Obama campaign: Obama is increasing low interest loans for farmers affected by the Midwest drought, working with insurance companies to extend payment deadlines and opening new land for ranchers to graze their herds.
He is also urging Congress to pass a 2012 Farm Bill and proposes strengthening the farm safety net, including crop disaster relief and a strong crop insurance program; investing in rural development programs; supporting farmers who invest in renewable energy and efficiency; eliminating unnecessary handouts to large wealthy farmers; and increasing funding for agricultural research and development.
Romney campaign: Romney applauds the success of the agriculture sector and will be an advocate for farmers and ranchers. He understands that it is of the utmost importance that America's food supply remain the most secure, affordable and abundant and will support farm policies the ensure these outcomes. For example, Romney will establish firm limits on the costs associated with federal regulations and restore common sense to the rule-making process. He will freeze and review new, pending or proposed agriculture regulations and eliminate or suspend those that are economically unjustifiable, duplicative or ineffective.
CP: Do you support subsidies for ethanol production?
Obama: Last year, rural America produced enough renewable fuels like ethanol and biodiesel to meet roughly 8 percent of our needs, helping us increase our energy independence to its highest level in 20 years. We are increasing the level of ethanol that can be blended into gasoline, and the new renewable fuel standard helped boost biodiesel production to nearly 1 billion gallons in 2011, supporting 39,000 jobs.
Romney: Romney envisions an America that is an energy superpower, rapidly increasing our own production and partnering with our allies, Canada and Mexico, to achieve energy independence on this continent by 2020. "The increased production of biofuels plays an important part in my plan to achieve energy independence. In order to support increased market penetration and competition among energy sources, I am in favor of maintaining the renewable fuel standard," he said.
CP: What is your policy on immigration?
Obama: Obama supports legislation to invest in border security, hold employers accountable, demand responsibility from undocumented immigrants while creating a path to legal status, and reform the legal immigration system to attract the best and brightest and keep families together. Until Congress acts, the administration is taking steps to secure our borders and enforce our immigration laws in a way that is more fair, efficient and just.
Romney: Romney will implement a national immigration strategy to fix our broken immigration system. He will secure our borders and strengthen our legal immigration system so that it betters our economy, brings immediate families together and honors our tradition as a nation of immigrants. He will end illegal immigration in a civil and resolute manner that respects the rule of law and the millions who have patiently applied to come here legally.
CP: Do you support reform in the H-2A visa program?
Romney: Romney will eliminate unnecessary requirements that delay visa issuance and will accelerate the application approval process. This will provide businesses with the short-term, seasonal labor they require.
Obama: Obama believes that while necessary, it is important to make changes to the H-2A program that balance the needs of businesses and workers.
CP: What is your position on federal estate and income taxes?
Obama: Obama is calling for comprehensive tax reform. He would extend for another year the middle class tax cuts for the 98 percent of Americans making less than $250,000, but he supports the return of the estate tax exemption and rates to 2009 levels. These policies were unfair and unaffordable when they were passed, and they remain so today.
Obama also would return the top tax rate on estates to 45 percent and reinstate the $7 million per couple estate tax exemption. Independent experts estimate that under this plan, only 60 small farm and business estates in the entire country would owe any estate tax in 2013. He would also return capital gains taxes to the rates they were when Bill Clinton was president.
Romney: Romney supports fundamental tax reform that lowers tax rates, broadens the base, achieves revenue neutrality and maintains the progressivity of the tax code. A major element of his tax reform plan is cutting marginal tax rates by 20 percent across-the-board, ensuring that fundamental tax reform benefits every single tax-paying American.
Regarding the estate tax, Romney wants to help all working families, including farmers and ranchers, keep more of what they earn. Romney will eliminate the estate tax, helping keep family farms and ranches intact when businesses pass on from one generation to the next.
CP: What is your position on the balance between environmental regulation and farming and ranching interests?
Romney: Romney will look closely at the environmental regulations already in place to make sure that their benefits in fact outweigh their costs. Our laws should promote a rational approach to regulation that takes cost into account, and rules should be carefully crafted to support rather than impede agricultural activities. Romney also thinks that we must improve our environmental review process by setting clear deadlines and statutes of limitations, requiring better coordination between federal agencies and allowing state reviews to satisfy federal requirements.
Obama: The Obama administration is working with more than 500,000 farmers and ranchers on more than 30 million acres to help conserve our lands and protect our waters. "I have seen how we can bolster growth of our nation's agricultural economy while protecting our environment," he said. "I believe that we can work together to safeguard the resources that Americans rely on every day and those that support farming and economic growth."
CP: Do you support reforms of the Endangered Species Act?
Obama: Obama said that as we protect the many animals that inhabit the United States we must reform the Endangered Species Act to best fit the needs of our farming community and the long-term needs of our public lands and communities.
Romney: Romney is a supporter of biodiversity and believes that science and data are vital to protecting any species. Unfortunately, scarce resources are being wasted on litigation driven by a handful of activist groups with little or no real conservation benefits. The Endangered Species Act is failing to achieve its primary purpose of species recovery and instead has become a tool for litigation that drains resources from real recovery efforts and blocks job-creating economic activities. The ESA should be modernized and updated to once again focus the law on true species recovery.
CP: Describe how you would increase trade opportunities for American farmers and ranchers.
Obama: Obama has expanded markets for American goods that help support over a million agriculture jobs here at home. In 2011, American farm income reached the highest point since 1974, with a record number of agricultural exports and a record agriculture trade surplus that means more of our products are being sold in markets around the world. He signed three trade agreements, with Panama, Colombia, and South Korea, which will create tens of thousands of jobs by further increasing exports.
Romney: Romney realizes that trade is a key factor in the strong prices that are driving agriculture's success and that agricultural trade creates good jobs in our economy. He would promote policies to open new markets for our agricultural products. He recognizes multilateral trade agreements as the best opportunity for agriculture to address crucial trade issues.
CP: Do you support direct commodity subsidy payments? If not, what would you put in their place?
Romney: Agricultural policy in this country is evolving, moving away from decades of government intervention and subsidies toward a more market-based system. Romney recognizes that the United States cannot remove government assistance for American farmers in a global marketplace where other nations continue to heavily subsidize their producers. He will pursue pro-trade policies that encourage all governments to promote free and fair competition, while opening new markets for American farmers around the world.
Obama: Last year, Obama proposed a dramatic, yet common-sense reform to terminate direct farm subsidies. Direct payments are problematic because they are paid out regardless of whether the farmer is currently producing certain crops -- or producing any crop, for that matter. As a result, taxpayers are footing the bill for these payments to farmers who are experiencing record yields and prices. In fact, more than half of these payments go to farmers with more than $100,000 in annual income, and both Republicans and Democrats have agreed that these need to go.
Instead of giving big business payments they don't need, Obama supports a stronger safety net for family farmers. Obama has called for extending disaster assistance programs and has expanded crop insurance to include more types of crops, expanding the safety net for American farmers.
American Farm Bureau Federation presidential questionnaire: http://www.fb.org/index.php?action=legislative.2012presidentialQuestionnaire
Iowa Public Television forum on agriculture: http://www.iptv.org/video/detail.cfm/30263/pfa_20120912_the_farm_vote
Obama on the issues: http://www.barackobama.com/record/economy
Romney on the issues: http://www.mittromney.com/issues