Biofuels, regs and trade in the presidential election
Amid the struggling economy and stubborn unemployment rate, most of the election debate stems around the budget deficit and the debt situation. Nevertheless, agriculture fits into the bigger picture and the presidential face-off between Democratic incumbent Barack Obama and Republican candidate Mitt Romney.
The added dynamics of a farm bill in flux and the most severe drought in decades have rural voters keeping a watchful eye on the campaigns.
Farm policy. President Obama and his team have continued to push for lawmakers to wrap up the farm bill, primarily to restart disaster programs that would help livestock producers.
When it comes to a safety net, the Democratic party’s platform supports "increased availability of crop insurance and emergency disaster assistance to help farmers and ranchers keep their farms in business after natural disasters and crop loss."
Due to weather and market volatility, Romney and his fellow Republicans believe farm programs should be "as cost-effective as they are functional, offering risk management tools that improve producers’ ability to operate when times are tough. Programs like the direct payment program should end in favor of those, like crop insurance, that help manage risk and are counter-cyclical in nature."
Biofuels. In light of the drought and high crop prices, several U.S. governors have requested a waiver of ethanol mandates under the Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS). Obama and his administration will "stay committed to biofuels because the RFS has increased the amount of biofuels consumption," said former Iowa Agriculture Commissioner Patty Judge, who represented the administration at the Presidential Forum on Agriculture, sponsored by the Farm Foundation.
Romney and the Republican party also support the RFS mandate, according to Sen. Mike Johanns (R-Neb.). "There needs to be new ways to use that product [ethanol] and take the next steps in terms of science and in terms of using other things to produce ethanol other than corn," he added.
Regulations. The Democratic National Committee says the Obama administration is focused on a "simpler, smarter and more cost-effective approach to regulation, rather than one riddled with special rules written by lobbyists. Efficient and effective regulations enforce commonsense safeguards to protect the American people. That’s what we’ve done in this country for more than a century. It’s why our food is safe to eat, our water is safe to drink and our air is safe to breathe."
The committee also claims that the directive by President Obama to have all agencies review and streamline outdated regulations will save at least $10 billion over five years and eliminate tens of millions of hours in annual paperwork burdens.
As for Romney’s regulation agenda, Johanns said the Republican presidential candidate would practice a "time-out" on new regulations. Regulations are "a wet blanket over the economy," Johanns noted. "There needs to be a thoughtful approach on what we are doing. We need to do the right cost-benefit analysis" on the impact of regulations, he said.
The Republican National Committee’s reply to the Democratic stance is that regulations "must be drafted and implemented to balance legitimate public safety or consumer protection goals and job creation. Constructive regulation should be a helpful guide, not a punitive threat. Worst of all, overregulation is a stealth tax on everyone as the costs of compliance with the whims of federal agencies are passed along to the consumers at the cost of $1.75 trillion a year."
Johanns argued that the administration is out of touch with reality, citing the now-tabled child labor laws for farms and claiming that the Environmental Protection Agency had planned to regulate farm dust and ran surveillance flights over Nebraska feedlots.
Johanns added that there are "a pile" of regulations that the administration will not release until a second term. "When the election occurs, hold onto your hat," he warned.
Judge disputed Johanns’ assertions. "I don’t believe [the Democrats] are out there with fistfuls of regulations just waiting to release them," she countered. "Let’s put the farm dust issue to rest. There are no pending regs on dust. Period."
Judge continued, "Do we need to be careful? Absolutely. If things are going too far, we should call [the administration] on it. We need a healthy economy that is not burdened with regulations."
Both parties agree that farmers and ranchers, for the most part, are good stewards of the land and don’t need new regulations to force the matter.
Trade. The topic of trade often comes up in Washington and, as a result, agriculture’s positive contribution to the trade picture. On a value basis, more ag products are sold overseas than are brought into the country.
"I’ve signed trade agreements that are helping our companies sell more goods to millions of new customers," claimed Obama when accepting the Democratic nomination for President in Charlotte, N.C.
Romney pledges to "make trade work for America by forging new trade agreements, and when nations cheat in trade, there will be unmistakable consequences."
Turning the focus on agriculture, Judge noted that trade issues at times continue to be "vexing," especially when countries throw up barriers to U.S. ag goods that aren’t based on science. She said the administration will continue to work with the private sector, USDA, lawmakers and others to solve trade issues.
As president, Romney would involve the World Trade Organization (WTO), Johanns said. "You have to get them involved in browbeating, doing whatever is necessary to get the members of the WTO—which are 156 countries, the major trading countries—to recognize that we have to work with each other on principles and standards that are fair to each side. You can’t say to the United States, ‘We want to sell you our pork, but we don’t want to buy your beef.’ That just doesn’t work."
Johanns said Romney would pursue bilateral trade deals. "Our farmers and ranchers can compete with anybody in the world if we get a level playing field," he said. He also mentioned that Romney would seek trade promotion authority from Congress, which would allow the administration to negotiate trade deals and bring them back to Congress for an up-or-down vote.
Key Swing States
While the candidates’ views on agricultural policy aren’t as contrary as they are in other sectors,
agriculture will still play a part in the outcome of the presidential election. For Romney to win,
political watchers predict he has to take Florida, Ohio and Virginia. For Obama to stay in the White House, he has to win Florida, Ohio or Virginia and either New Hampshire, Iowa or Colorado. The addition of Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) as Romney’s running mate inserts Wisconsin into the battleground states.