Michael D. Shear reported in today’s New York Times that, “President Obama signed the $956 billion farm bill on Friday at Michigan State University, where he extolled the benefits of a thriving agricultural sector for the nation’s overall economy [transcript of remarks, video replay of signing ceremony, White House Blog update].
“Standing in front of a tractor and other farm equipment, Mr. Obama said the legislation ‘lifts up our rural communities’ and would give more Americans ‘a shot at opportunity’ in the years ahead.
“‘We’ve had the strongest stretch of farm exports in our history,’ Mr. Obama told about 500 farmers and local officials in a horse barn at the university. ‘We are selling more stuff to more people than ever before,’ he said, adding, ‘What we grow here and what we sell is a huge boost to the entire economy, but particularly the rural economy.’”
Today’s article pointed out that, “Lawmakers passed the sprawling legislation this week after four years of bitter arguments over farming subsidies and Republican efforts to reduce financing for food stamps. The final bill replaces direct crop payments with an insurance program and trims $8 billion from food stamps over the next decade — far less than the $40 billion cut some Republicans had called for.”
The Times article indicated that, “‘I’ve seen how hard it can be to be a farmer,’ [Pres. Obama] said. Big corporate farms are doing well, the president said, but ‘there are even more small farms, family farms, where folks are just scratching out a living.’”
(However, as FarmPolicy.com pointed out in a letter to the editor to The Wall Street Journal a couple of years back: “The Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service stated in a recent report that ‘Most U.S. farms—98 percent in 2007—are family operations, and even the largest farms are predominantly family run.’”)
Mr. Shear, in today’s New York Times article, added: “In his remarks, Mr. Obama announced a new ‘Made in Rural America’ initiative that he said would help rural businesses market their goods abroad. White House officials also announced five regional forums on rural exports and an ‘investing in rural America’ conference. Mr. Obama directed the White House Rural Council to host sessions in all 50 states to train Department of Agriculture staff members on how to promote rural exports.
“The president called the farm bill a ‘jobs bill,’ an ‘innovation bill,’ a ‘research bill’ and a ‘conservation bill.’ But he said two main benefits of the bill would be to help rural communities and provide food assistance to poor families and children.”
Mr. Shear also pointed out that, “The White House released a report Friday from Mr. Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers that said farm income had risen significantly since the president took office in the depths of the recession.”
Kathleen Hennessey reported yesterday at the Los Angeles Times Online that, “In his remarks at the university’s [Michigan State University] equine performance center, Obama described the legislation as an economic, environmental and agricultural bill rolled into one.
“‘It’s like a Swiss Army knife. It’s like a Mike Trout,’ the president said, referring to the Angels center fielder who is known as a five-tool player for his versatile skills. ‘It multi-tasks. It’s creating more good jobs, gives more Americans a shot at opportunity.’”
Ms. Hennessey explained that, “If the law is a sign of hope for compromise on other measures, there were also signs Friday of the limits on bipartisan comity. No Republican lawmakers attended the signing event, to which the White House said it invited about 50 lawmakers from both parties.
“‘Everyone invited has to speak for himself or herself about their decision to attend or not attend,’ White House spokesman Jay Carney said. ‘Look, this was a bipartisan effort and everyone involved in it deserves credit. The president is happy to share credit for that.’”
The LA Times article added that, “Tamara Hinton, a spokeswoman for House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank D. Lucas (R-Okla.) said he was invited but that ‘prior commitments in Oklahoma prevented him from attending.’
“Lucas released a statement calling the bill a safety net for the food supply and struggling Americans with a focus ‘rightly placed on reducing the size and cost of the federal government.’”
Senate Ag Committee Ranking Member Thad Cochran (R., Miss.) indicated in a statement from yesterday that, “Implementation of the 2014 farm bill will create opportunities for farmers, ranchers and foresters to improve American agriculture. Producers and consumers of food and fiber will benefit from the reforms included in the new law, as well as from the certainty it provides. The new farm bill is an important achievement, particularly for the rural communities that sustain agricultural production in Mississippi and throughout the country.”
And an update yesterday by Don Haney at KFGO-AM (Fargo-Moorhead, N.D.) Online, reported that, “President Obama travels to Michigan Friday to sign the landmark farm bill. But conspicuous by their absence will be some of the key players involved in getting the legislation passed. That includes Minnesota 7th District Congressman Collin Peterson, ranking Democrat on the House Ag Committee.
“He tells KFGO News this was not the right thing to do. He doesn’t blame the President who was traveling to Michigan anyway. He says the bill signing should have taken place in Washington so those who spent 3 years working on the legislation could be on hand.
“Peterson says in the end, the important thing is that the President is signing the bill into law. Peterson says he had commitments in Minnesota already scheduled and could not change his schedule at short notice.”
Kristina Peterson reported yesterday at The Washington Wire Blog (Wall Street Journal) that, “Months ago, Ms. Stabenow began her successful quest to get Mr. Obama to sign the farm bill at Michigan State, the first land-grant university.
“‘At various points when I’ve seen him and his staff, I’ve suggested that once we got the farm bill it would be a great thing to do,’ Ms. Stabenow said in an interview Thursday. ‘Frankly, they loved the idea of being able to be in Michigan to do it.’”
Recall also that in May of 2011, the Senate Ag Committee held its “first official field hearing” on the Farm Bill at Michigan State University- FarmPolicy.com transcript here.
At that hearing, Chairwoman Stabenow noted that, “And we’re doing our first two field hearings, first in Michigan and then in Kansas, and then we’ll be listening, of course, to folks from across the country. But it was important to me to start here.”
Meanwhile, David Nakamura reported in today’s Washington Post that, “Having pledged during his State of the Union address last month to more forcefully apply his executive authority to work around Republican opposition, Obama may have managed to make the problem even worse. Obama’s shifting tone — he’ll work with Congress when he feels like it and go around the legislative body when he wants — has led his rivals to wonder how they are supposed to trust him on the type of large-scale initiatives for which he needs their support, including immigration reform, long-term unemployment insurance and a minimum wage hike.”
The Post article indicated that, “‘People want us to get things done,’ Stabenow said, dismissing a suggestion that Obama’s approach would further alienate House Republicans. ‘It’s way too partisan in Washington now, and there’s way too much gridlock. However we can move forward to solve problems, create jobs, get things done — that’s what we should be doing.’”
Erik Wasson and Rebecca Shabad reported yesterday at The Hill’s On the Money Blog that, “[Pres. Obama] hailed the farm bill for ending the direct farm payment program and replacing it with expanded crop insurance and subsidies based on revenue and price declines.
“‘It saves taxpayers hard-earned dollars by making sure that we only support farmers when disaster strikes or prices drop. It’s not just automatic,’ Obama said.”
Also yesterday, AP writer Nedra Pickler reported that, “Conservatives remain unhappy with the bill and its generous new subsidies for interests ranging from Southern peanut growers and Midwest corn farmers to the Northeast maple syrup industry.
“They also wanted much larger cuts to food stamps than the $800 million Congress finally approved in a compromise. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told reporters he did not expect the cut of about 1 percent of the food stamp budget to have a significant impact on recipients.”
Reuters writer Roberta Rampton reported yesterday that, “‘The last five years have been the best five years in agriculture in the history of the country,’ Vilsack told reporters traveling with Obama, noting farm income has been at record highs as exports surge.
“‘Obviously we want to continue that momentum, and that required the passage of a farm bill,’ Vilsack said.”
And Bill Tomson reported yesterday at Politico that, “Now the clock starts ticking for the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
“President Barack Obama on Friday signed a new five-year farm bill that will sink billions more dollars into crop insurance, provide desperately sought disaster assistance for ranchers and overhaul the way the government supports dairy farmers.”
The article added that, “First on USDA’s to-do list should be putting in place a disaster assistance program for ranchers, said Mary Kay Thatcher, senior director of congressional relations for the American Farm Bureau Federation. A similar program attached to the 2008 farm bill expired in 2011, leaving ranchers at the mercy of a scorching drought in 2012 that decimated hay and forage crops and a freak blizzard in the Dakotas and Nebraska last year that killed tens of thousands of cattle and other livestock.
“‘Those guys haven’t had help in over two years,’ Thatcher told POLITICO.”
In addition, Jennifer Jacobs reported yesterday at the Iowa Politics Blog (Des Moines Register) that, “Democrats are doing their best to make sure that Iowans know that three Republicans who are possible 2016 presidential candidates voted against a major bill that farmers had long been waiting for.
“‘Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz and Rand Paul all voted against the farm bill that benefits agriculture – the backbone of our state,’ Iowa Democratic Party Executive Director Troy Price said in a memo emailed out to Iowans today. ‘As Rubio, Cruz and Paul schedule their future visits to Iowa, we hope they plan on sharing with us why they put their own Washington political interests ahead of Iowa’s economy.’”
Several lawmakers released statements or press releases yesterday regarding the Farm Bill signing, including: Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D., N.D.), Sen. John Hoeven (R., N.D.), Rep. Marlin Stutzman (R., Ind.), and Rep. John Garamendi (D., Calif.).