A debate between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney on agricultural issues -- you won't see that happen during the 2012 presidential campaign this fall. But two of their representatives did discuss farm policy before a recent gathering of the National Association of State Directors of Agriculture.
NASDA held its annual meeting in Des Moines in mid-September, hosted by the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, headed by Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey. The "Presidential Forum on Agriculture" was one of several NASDA events.
Patty Judge, former Iowa secretary of agriculture who also served as lieutenant governor of Iowa, represented Democrat President Barack Obama in the discussion, held at the World Food Prize Hall of Laureates in downtown Des Moines. Mike Johanns, currently a U.S. Senator from Nebraska and former U.S. secretary of agriculture, represented Republican presidential challenger Mitt Romney.
Two long-time friends can disagree and yet have a civil debate
Mike Pearson, host of Iowa Public Television's Market to Market program, moderated the discussion. Pearson asked the two stand-ins several questions, and then opened it up for questions from the audience. There wasn't a lot that Judge and Johnanns agreed on, but the debate did demonstrate that two long-time friends can disagree and yet have a civil debate.
Judge and Johanns first met when they accompanied a group of U.S. trade officials to Europe years ago, traveling on a mission to try to convince European ag officials to accept grain grown from genetically modified crops grown in the U.S. and elsewhere.
To begin the presidential debate in Des Moines, Judge highlighted the Obama administration's efforts to boost rural development and renewable energy and to help farmers hit by drought in 2012. She said President Obama is advocating for a strong financial safety net in the new farm bill and he is urging Congress to pass the bill this year. She noted Obama has signed several bilateral trade agreements between the U.S. and other nations.
"President Obama understands the challenges facing rural America, and we need to re-elect him and keep moving forward so we can keep building new wind turbines, increase exports of U.S. products and increase production of biofuels from the Midwest rather than import oil from the Middle East," Judge said.
Judge fears Romney will cut many farm programs that help farmers
Patty Judge said Obama's policies have strongly supported rural America and have helped farmers earn record income the last four years although she did acknowledge that the drought of 2012 is what largely has driven this year's corn and soybean prices to record high levels. She fears the fiscally conservative Romney, in an effort to reduce federal spending, will cut numerous programs that help farmers.
The debate in Des Moines took place the same week farm bill supporters gathered in Washington for a "Farm Bill Now" rally to urge the U.S. House of Representatives to bring the bill to a vote in Congress. That didn't happen. Congress ended up adjourning September 21 and went home to campaign and won't return to Washington until after the election in early November.
Both Judge and Johanns spoke at the debate in Des Moines in favor of the new farm bill. Johanns said several times that Romney, who hasn't publicly spoken about the legislation, wants Congress to "get it right" when writing the new farm bill, and then pass it. Judge pointed out that Obama has been pushing for passage of the bill while Romney has been silent on the farm bill.
Johanns says President Obama is anti-agriculture on a number of issues
Johanns said Romney wants to eliminate the federal estate tax, lower overall income tax rates, lessen the regulatory burden on farmers and expand agricultural trade. Johanns said Obama is anti-agriculture and cited various regulatory issues, ranging from EPA's proposal to regulate farm dust to the U.S. Labor Department's attempt to draft child labor rules that would restrict youth from performing certain farm tasks. Johanns said farmers complain to him about EPA flyovers of livestock facilities, and provisions farmers don't like in the health care legislation passed by Democrats.
Johanns added that while it is true Obama has signed several different free trade agreements during his first term, the president hasn't aggressively pushed a pro-trade agenda nor has Obama asked Congress to give him trade promotion authority or TPA which expired during the Bush administration. "TPA is something every president needs in order to expand free trade and Mitt Romney will work hard to get it. Obama won't do that because his union supporters don't want TPA," said Johanns.
Judge responded to Johanns' criticism of Obama by saying the EPA's flyover policy of using airplanes to inspect feedlots and find cases of runoff polluting waterways actually started a decade ago in the Bush administration. Judge also said, "There are no farm dust rules. They were talked about but never enacted. Same thing for the proposed child labor rules for teenagers working on farms. It was discussed and there was a public comment period. Eventually the Obama administration withdrew the proposed rules."
Judge: "I believe the affordable health care act is going to benefit farmers in many ways."
In an interview after the debate, Judge said she believes the health care reform legislation championed by Obama, when it is fully enacted, will help many farmers. "I believe the affordable health care act is going to benefit farmers in many ways," she said, such as allowing farm families to keep their children who may be starting to farm covered by the parents' health insurance until age 26.
In her summary at the end of the debate, Judge emphasized the fact that Obama is pushing for passage of the farm bill and he supports renewal of the wind energy tax credit, something Romney opposes. She also emphasized Obama's support for biofuels.
Johanns summed up his remarks by saying Obama talks about doing many things but doesn't back up those promises with action. Johanns said Romney supports the Renewable Fuels Standard and supports an "all of the above" energy policy. Johnanns warned if Obama is re-elected there will be a push by the administration to enact more regulations.
Both of the stand-ins sincerely believe their candidate is best
"As I've gotten to know Mitt Romney, I've grown to respect him more," said Johanns. "He speaks honestly about what we are really facing in this nation."
Johanns added, "I sincerely believe Mitt Romney is the best candidate for farmers and all of agriculture. Romney has figured out the best course for agriculture and our country. His policy on reducing taxes and increasing trade with other nations will help insure opportunity for our young people, the next generation, to take over the family farm."
Judge had the final comment. She said Obama has proven over and over that he supports agriculture and rural communities, and he talks about agriculture more on the campaign trail than Romney does. Judge also said Romney's tax proposals as a way to stimulate the economy and develop more jobs won't be successful. "I was here in southern Iowa farming with my husband in the 1980s during the farm financial crisis," she said. "I tell you, trickle-down economics does not work. It has never worked."