Iowa Public Television


President Obama's Rural Agenda

posted on January 23, 2009

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Listening to the inaugural address of America's 44th President this week, it seemed likely Obama's presidency is destined to be compared to that of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Not since FDR's 1933 inaugural address in the midst the Great Depression has a president used the occasion to advocate a legislative agenda the way Obama did on Tuesday.

Roosevelt realized that the largest task at hand in 1933 was to put people to work. And Obama renewed his call for congressional action creating new jobs building and repairing public infrastructure.

Both FDR and Obama were faced with a skeptical electorate that had grown increasingly disillusioned amidst troubling economic times. While Obama has repeatedly stated that the economy is his top priority, it is less clear what that means to America's farmers and ranchers.

Andrew Batt examined Obama's rural agenda over the past two years and filed this report.

As the nation watched Barack Obama assume the Presidency this week, the weight of two wars and an economic recession hung heavily on America's 44th Commander-in-Chief.

President Barack Obama: "America. For everywhere we look, there is work to be done. The state of the economy calls for action, bold and swift, and we will act - not only to create new jobs, but to lay a new foundation for growth. We will build the roads and bridges, the electric grids and digital lines that feed our commerce and bind us together."

"We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories. And we will transform our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age. All this we can do. And all this we will do."

President Obama's nod towards alternative energy is nothing new. A grueling two-year campaign for the Presidency highlighted numerous issues including the future of wind power and biofuels.

From the cold caucuses in Iowa…

Obama: "We need to foster the development of the next generation of biofuels."

To the daily grind of the general election…

Obama: "Wind, tide, solar, we can do it all and we must do it all…"

Obama has promised to double alternative energy production in his first term – a lofty goal buoyed by massive federal spending. The $825 billion stimulus bill proposed by Obama and modified by House Democrats includes a litany of investments. Under the new plan, some federal tax credits, for sectors like wind energy, would become Energy Department grants paid in advance to spur faster alternative energy investment.

The omnibus bill also includes $6 billion designated for rural broadband infrastructure. But it's still unclear whether or not the bill's larger sums, aimed at state and local infrastructure, will be used for Rural projects like bridges and country highways.

Outside of the stimulus proposal, the Obama Administration's views on agriculture include a variety of initiatives and some in agreement with Republicans.

Tom Buis, President National Farmers Union: "Let's give Senator Barack Obama a warm Iowa Farmers Union welcome."

Speaking to members of the Iowa Farmers Union in November 2007, then-Senator Obama agreed with a bipartisan proposal from Iowa Republican Charles Grassley to cap farm subsidy payments at $250,000. Despite a bipartisan coalition, the subsidy cap did not make it in the 2008 farm bill.

President Barack Obama: "Here's what I'll do as president. I'll immediately implement Country of Origin Labeling because Americans should know where their food comes from."

Federal officials were set to enforce Country of Origin Labeling, or COOL in the coming months but an Obama executive order this week froze all pending regulations until further review from the new Administration.

Current COOL policy would allow a meat processor using product from foreign and domestic sources to simply place "multiple countries" labels on the packaging. Some cattle groups hope Obama and new Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack will "tighten" rules concerning a "multiple countries" label and enforce more descriptive labeling.

Obama: "I have always stood for tougher environmental regulations and local control over whether CAFOs can be built in your neighborhood. That's why we need to limit EQUIP funding to giant CAFOs so they pay for their own pollution and that's what I will do as President of the United States."

Obama's stance on controlled animal feeding operations, or CAFOs, has endeared the new President in many environmental circles but those same stances have created an uneasy reception from livestock producers.

Barack Obama: "Tell ConAgra it's not the Department of Agribusiness. It's the Department of Agriculture."

Despite Obama's public condemnation of agribusinesses, critics have blasted new Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack as "too close" to large agriculture companies. The former Iowa Governor has a history of supporting biotechnology and ethanol production during his tenure in the Hawkeye State. In his conformation hearing last week, Vilsack said he would be a Secretary for all American farmers.

Sec. Tom Vilsack, USDA: "I do appreciate the diversity of agriculture and that it's the job of the USDA to be responsive and representative of all of that diversity and to be supportive of that diversity...These are hard working people, these are folks that have a value system that is not just important to them I would argue that it's important to us, to this country."

While Obama will likely confront multiple domestic and international challenges in his first 100 days, the 44th U.S. President made a 2007 promise to quickly tackle rural policy.

Obama: "After I'm elected I will ask Democrats and Republicans to come together for a summit on Rural America and it won't be held in Washington it will be right here in Iowa. And we will take action on a Rural Agenda in my first hundred days in office."

For Market to Market, I'm Andrew Batt.


Tags: agriculture Barack Obama corn ethanol Iowa news politics presidents rural soybeans