President Barack Obama and Republican candidate Mitt Romney recently detailed their positions regarding agriculture issues in response to a questionnaire from the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF). Specifically the candidates spelled out their positions on energy policy, environmental regulations, farm and fiscal policy, farm labor, trade, taxes and more.
On energy, Obama said that rural America can help increase our energy independence and boost the transition to a clean energy economy. "U.S. biofuel production is at its highest level in history. 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… and the new Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) helped boost biodiesel production to nearly 1 billion gallons in 2011, supporting 39,000 jobs," Obama noted.
Romney said that "An affordable, reliable supply of energy is crucial to America’s economic future." He has a vision of an American energy superpower in which we increase our own production and partner with our allies, Canada and Mexico to achieve energy independence by 2020. He says taking full advantage of our energy resources will create millions of jobs -- both within and outside the energy industry. Romney also said that increased biofuel production plays a role in achieving energy independence and that he supports maintaining the RFS. " I also support eliminating regulatory barriers to a diversification of the electrical grid, fuel system, and vehicle fleet," Romney continued.
Regarding farm policy, Obama pointed out that his administration increased the availability of crop insurance and emergency disaster assistance this year in response to this year's natural disasters and crop loss. He also said that a farm bill should be passed this year, and it should be one that maintains a "strong crop insurance program and an extended disaster assistance program... Instead of making farmer pay more for crop insurance, we will do it by cutting subsidies to crop insurance companies and better targeting conservation funding."
Romney also noted support for a strong farm bill with "appropriate risk management tools that will work for farmers and ranchers throughout the country." He says immediate priority should be "enacting disaster relief for those not traditionally covered by crop insurance as this year’s drought has worsened."
"On the broader question of farm programs," Romney continues, "we must be cognizant that our agricultural producers are competing with other nations around the world. Other nations subsidize their farmers, so we must be careful not to unilaterally change our policies in a way that would disadvantage agriculture here in our country." Romney also emphasized the need for the U.S. not to depend on foreign nations as we do for energy.
On fiscal policy, Obama noted the need to take our fiscal and budgeting policy seriously and pointed out that earlier this year he put forth a plan for $4 trillion in deficit reductions. Obama once again emphasized that when he entered office, he was faced with a "more than $1 trillion deficit on the day I took office – overwhelmingly caused by a bad economy and the policies of the prior administration."
Romney said getting "reckless government spending under control is one of my top priorities." He says this can be done by implementing a "basic test that looks at every program and asks whether it is so critical that it’s worth borrowing money from China to pay for it." His plan would also "empower the states" by sending federal programs back to the state-level so that they can be "tailored to meet local needs. Finally, he says he would reduce the size of the federal government to make it more efficient and productive.
On farm labor, Obama emphasized the need to provide legal channels for U.S. employers to hire needed foreign workers. He says we can't wait for Congress to act on this issue, which is why his administration "is already taking action to improve the existing system for temporary agricultural workers. We are also standing up a new Office on Farmworker Opportunities at the U.S. Department of Agriculture."
Romney says the current system for issuing visas to temporary seasonal workers is broken, and that as President, he "will make the system for bringing in temporary agricultural workers and other seasonal workers functional for both employers and workers. I will get rid of unnecessary requirements that delay issuance of a visa and will speed the processing of applications."
Notably, Romney also addressed the controversial child labor on farm issues -- an issue on which Obama was silent. He said, "We will not propose heavy-handed regulations that will limit opportunities for our youth to be involved in agriculture. This is a stark contrast to what the Obama Administration proposed in their regulations to prohibit those under the age of 16 from working on farms, in some cases even one owned by their family."
On taxes, Obama says he would extend middle class tax cuts for those making less than $250,000 for another year, while he maintains his opposition to the extension of tax cuts for those households bringing in more than this amount. Obama's proposal would return the top tax rate on estates to 45% and reinstate the $7 million per couple estate tax exemption. Obama also says he would return capital gains taxes to the rates they were when Bill Clinton was president, but he also says he would call for the "permanent elimination of capital gains taxes on key small business investments."
Romney says his plan for to jumpstart the economic recovery includes passage of fundamental tax reform that "lowers tax rates, broadens the base, achieves revenue neutrality, and maintains the progressivity of the tax code." Romney says he would eliminate the estate tax should he become president. He also says he would "maintain the current 15% capital gains rate for wealthier Americans while totally eliminating capital gains, dividend and interest taxes for those who earn less than $200,000 per year."
On trade, Obama emphasized that he has expanded the market for American goods, via the signing of trade agreements with Panama, Columbia and South Korea and said he is "working to expand local and regional food markets, a multi-billion dollar industry."
Romney said a thriving ag sector is key to economic growth, and that as president he would work to promote multilateral trade agreements. He says he would work with Congress to gain "Trade Promotion Authority in order to facilitate the negotiation and completion of trade agreements." He also stressed that "the World Trade Organization should reassert itself in order to resolve and restrict non-science-based trade restrictions prohibited by the overriding agreements."
He also notes that the three agreements the Obama administration enacted were initiated by the Bush Administration.
For the candidates' full responses to the questionaire, click here.