Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Clinton and Trump surrogates debate agriculture and food issues at Farm Foundation Forum

By Tim Mandell
Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues

Representatives of the Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump campaigns participated Wednesday morning in a Farm Foundation Forum in Washington, D.C. Clinton was represented by Kathleen Merrigan, executive director of sustainability at George Washington University and former depuity agriculture secretary. Trump was represented by Sam Clovis, co-chair and senior policy adviser for the candidate and a professor of economics at Morningside College in Sioux City, Iowa.

Merrigan said Clinton's main agricultural goals are increasing renewable energy, which can lead to more rural jobs, creating an immigration pathway to citizenship for an industry that relies on foreign-born labor, increasing the number of beginning farmers and ranchers, and creating more opportunities for the growing number of female farm operators.

Merrigan said Clinton is focused on making broadband available to all homes by 2020, addressing rural drug addiction concerns and supporting rural revitalization through infrastructure, water and transportation projects. She also touted Clinton's support of the 2008 Farm Bill and said Trump's running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, voted against the bill 16 times as a congressman.

Clovis said two of Trump's biggest priorities are the impact the next president will have on the U.S. Supreme Court and tax reform. He said new justices on the court could "fundamentally change the nature and culture of the court system," which could affect agriculture and rural areas. He also said reducing the corporate tax would keep more jobs in the U.S., while encouraging companies that left for overseas to return home.

He said trade and border security are major issues. Increasing trade will lead to more producers having "access to as many markets as possible." At the same time, he said a workable system needs to be put in place to address the high number of illegal immigrants working in agriculture. While he said Trump wants to make sure the Mexican border is more secure, he also wants to streamline the H2A visa work program to make those workers legal.

During the question and answer period agricultural regulations sparked a heated debate, specifically rules that are allegedly incompatible with each other, and whether overlapping agencies create conflicts by.

Clovis said Trump supports creating a commission to look at the agencies and departments and "get people out of each other's lanes." Merrigan said being anti-regulatory is not helpful, that "regulations are not a bad thing" and they create a "level playing field."

Clovis said having a commission would not be anti-regulatory. "When you write regulations without symmetry, then you create situations that cause people to lose competitive advantages," benefiting bigger companies or large farms while hurting small businesses, which suffer more from increased operational costs.

Asked about the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps, Clovis said more people need to "get off the sidelines" and be less dependent on the government and more dependent on themselves. To accomplish that, he said the U.S. needs to increase economic growth, increasing employment and reducing poverty. Merrigan countered that most of the people receiving SNAP need the benefits and "are really hurting." She said said the U.S. Department of Agriculture's rate of improper payments is low, at under 4 percent.

Asked about the Obama administration's redefintion of "waters of the U.S.." Clovis said, "This may be the poster child for government overreach." He said ranchers he has talked to feel the government is not there to help them or protect them. Merrigan said the Clean Water Act "may not be as much a conflict as people assume." She did say that agencies need to do a better job communicating the rules with the public.

Audio from the forum will be made available on the Farm Foundation website and a video is to be posted on the Ag Day site.

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