By JIM MILLER
Former Under Secretary for Farm and Foreign Agriculture Services at USDA
Last week, Mitt Romney outlined an “Agenda for a Vibrant Rural America.” His plan demonstrates that he is entirely out of touch with the way of life in rural America, and the needs of farmers and ranchers.
Under President Obama, American farmers are seeing record farm income, and agriculture has been one of the fastest-growing parts of our economy, creating one out of every 12 American jobs.
In his speech, Romney proved that he will say anything to win, even if it means lying to voters. So he totally misstated the President’s record and outlined some false promises of his own. Let’s look at the pillars of his so-called “Romney Agenda for a Vibrant Rural America ” – taxes, trade, regulations and energy.
- Pillar One: Mitt Romney claims cutting taxes for the wealthiest is the silver bullet to a strong economy. Independent experts have done the math, and even if Romney pays for his $5 trillion plan by cutting tax benefits, he’d still end up giving $250,000 tax cuts to multi-millionaires, while sticking middle class families with children with an average tax hike of $2,000 a year.
The President supports raising the exemption levels to protect the family farm from being sold to pay taxes, with 99.7 percent of all estates exempted providing a $7 million estate tax exemption per couple to ensure that family farms and businesses can be transferred to a new generation of entrepreneurs. President Obama has also cut taxes for the typical family by an average of $3,600 and his jobs plan – which Romney opposes – would allow farms and other small businesses to immediately write-off 100 percent of the cost of new investments like farm buildings and equipment.
- Pillar Two: Romney talks tough on trade. But when President Obama imposed stiff tariffs on Chinese tires to save American jobs, Romney called it “bad for the nation and our workers.”
American exports of food and agriculture reached a record high of $137 billion, supporting over 1.1 million jobs last year. And to build on this progress, President Obama signed three free trade agreements that will boost agricultural exports by $2.3 billion a year.
Trade sabre rattling doesn’t open markets or increase farm exports, but could invite a backlash among some of our most important trading partners.
- Pillar Three: Folks deserve better than Romney dredging up old myths and strawmen about farm dust, airplane surveillance, child labor and water regulations that have been repeatedly debunked. Our public health and environment deserve better than Romney rolling back safeguards that protect rural Americans and keep our air and water clean.
President Obama approved fewer regulations in the first three years of his presidency than George Bush did in his first three years. And the President is working with farmers to identify and reduce regulatory burdens. He has done this on conservation actions, helping reduce the burden on landowners, while ensuring the protection of surrounding lands and species.
- Pillar Four: Romney’s energy plan is nothing but the same failed policies of the past. Romney would roll back investments in the clean energy economy, including allowing the wind production tax credit to expire, which supports 7,000 jobs in Iowa. You can’t have an energy plan that helps rural America, when you gut clean energy from the equation.
Under President Obama, U.S. biofuel production reached its highest level in history. Last year, rural America produced enough renewable fuels to meet roughly 8 percent of our needs, helping us increase our energy independence to its highest level in 20 years.
- Pillar Five: Oops, he didn’t have a Pillar Five. Of all the pillars included in his plan, Mitt Romney leaves out agriculture. Seems Romney doesn’t know that farming and ranching are part of Rural America.
Romney takes no position whatsoever on the Farm Bill, and doesn’t even say which version of the farm bill he supports. And he hasn’t called on Republicans in Congress to pass the Farm Bill, probably because his running mate Paul Ryan, and their Republican allies are blocking it.
Their Romney-Ryan budget would severely limit the next farm bill. They’d weaken the farm safety net, gut natural resource conservation programs that benefit farmers and the environment, and undermine job growth and economic development in rural America.
While President Obama’s budget would eliminate handouts to corporate agribusinesses to protect family farmers, Romney and Ryan would do the opposite. They’d make family farmers pay more for the crop insurance they need in times of natural disaster and economic hardship.
President Obama is fighting for the Farm Bill and taking concrete steps to help farmers and ranchers manage these devastating drought conditions. He wants to see a five-year farm and jobs bill that strengthens the farm safety net, including natural disaster relief and a strong crop insurance program.
Romney’s plan lacks specifics and a basic understanding of how rural America works. He doesn’t have any real ideas, particularly on the Farm Bill, and his policies would take us backwards.
The choice in this election for rural Americans is clear. While President Obama has their backs, Romney and Ryan would leave them out to dry.
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