Romney, Obama Show Rural Policy Differences

Questionnaires and other sources provide a glimpse into what President Barack Obama and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney think about rural issues since they seldom discuss the topic on the campaign trail.

In short, a Romney surrogate said the Republican presidential candidate’s plan for rural America is to promote foreign trade, get government off the backs of rural residents, lower taxes and “develop a more sensible approach to regulation.”

Republican U.S. Sen. Mike Johanns, a former Nebraska governor and U.S. agriculture secretary, made the comments in a rare forum about rural presidential politics in Des Moines, Iowa.

Countering Johanns in the forum was former Iowa Lt. Gov. Patty Judge, who also was that state’s agriculture secretary for several years. She said Democrat Obama has done well in expanding farm export markets and he has “made incredible progress boosting a strong farm economy.”

Here is a look at some issues:

Farm bill

The two candidates appear to have more agreement than disagreement on a proposed farm bill that would shift away from giving farmers subsidies to establishing a more robust crop insurance program to better protect farmers during disasters.

“There has been substantial agreement,” Johanns said about new federal farm policies, but the two campaigns have not been clear on where the candidates disagree.

Obama said in answering a Farm Bureau questionnaire that a farm bill should be passed this year to provide farmers protection. “That’s why I have called for maintaining a strong crop insurance program and an extended disaster assistance program.”

The president and his supporters say they would expect Romney to raise crop insurance rates, while the administration proposed reducing farm subsidies and using that money to aid crop insurance and to bump up conservation program funding.

Romney said he supports a “strong farm bill that provides the appropriate risk management tools. …”

The challenger warned that since other countries subsidize farmers, “we must be careful not to unilaterally change our policies in a way that would disadvantage agriculture here in our country.”


The estate tax, which Republicans like to call the “death tax,” would be nearly eliminated in a new Obama administration, the president told the Farm Bureau.

Obama said his proposal to charge no tax on $7 million of estate value would mean just 60 small farms and business estates in the country would owe any estate tax next year.

Romney pledged to eliminate the estate tax, which he said would allow more farms and ranches to remain in the family.

The president said federal leaders need to overhaul the entire tax code to eliminate “inefficient, unfair duplicative or even unnecessary” provisions. He said his plan to continue tax cuts for 98 percent of Americans would be his first step, along with increasing taxes for households with annual income more than $250,000.

In talking about rural taxes, Romney uses much the same wording as when talking about general tax issues.

“We must pass fundamental tax reform that lowers tax rates, broadens the base, achieves revenue neutrality and maintains the progressivity of the tax code,” he said, claiming his philosophy would help create 12 million jobs in his first year as president.

Environmental policy

Farmers, miners and other rural Americans blame the Obama administration’s Environmental Protection Agency for bringing up a string of proposed regulations not popular in their areas.

In general, Romney calls for fewer and less restrictive federal environmental rules while Obama more often supports existing policy.

To the Farm Bureau questions, Obama said he will not apply new standards “to waters that have not been historically protected. And all existing exemptions for agricultural discharges and waters are going to stay in place.”

Romney said that laws and rules written to protect health and environment “have, instead, been seized on by environmentalists as tools to disrupt economic activity and the enjoyment of our nation’s environment altogether.” He said that has been Obama’s approach as his EPA engaged in “the most far-reaching regulatory scheme in American history.”

Federal rules should support development, not impede it, Romney said.

“They were going to treat milk like oil spills,” said Johanns, who grew up in northern Iowa, just south of the Minnesota border.

Eventually, the EPA backed down on classifying milk spills like oil spills and requiring more extensive clean-up procedures than dairy farmers felt were needed. The EPA also did not take action on another proposed rule: requiring farmers to control dust.

“If Barack Obama is re-elected, we are going to be dealing with the dust regulations again,” Johanns predicted.

Judge said Johanns is wrong: “There are no pending regulations by EPA to regulate dust.”

Temporary workers

The candidates agree there is a need to speed immigrant worker visas so tourism and agriculture businesses can get the seasonal workers they need.

Obama said a new system must be designed, one that protects American workers’ wages and working conditions.

Until Congress agrees on such a system, the president said his administration is working to improve the situation on its own, including establishing the Office on Farmworker Opportunities.

Romney said that he would order faster visa approvals.

“Indeed, in 2006 and 2007, 43 percent of all applications for temporary agricultural workers were not processed on time,” Romney said.

Invasive species

While Obama appointed a person to head efforts to block the advance of Asian carp, the most publicized invasive species, local officials have been frustrated by what they see as lack of action.

An Obama spokeswoman said he will move ahead with efforts to try to keep the carp with huge appetites out of the Great Lakes, but could give no specifics.

While the president waits for a study to decide if he would plug a man-made connection between the Illinois River and the Great Lakes, a potential Asian carp entryway, Romney said in answering a Keep America Fishing questionnaire that he would speed up the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers study and act quickly.

“I am deeply concerned about the threat posed to the lakes by invasive species from the Mississippi River basin, and I am outraged that five years after Congress ordered the Army Corps of Engineers to identify a solution that we are still years away from a recommendation,” Romney said. “America put a man on the moon in less time than that.”

Obama countered that his administration has “launched multiple efforts to encourage state, local and federal authorities to coordinate in their efforts to mitigate the spread of Asian carp.”


Recreational fishing is burdened by too many regulations, Romney said.

He pledged to “put the focus back on common sense regulations that can protect and rebuild fisheries when necessary, but will also allow anglers greater access to healthy marine resources.”

Obama said that his administration has created many public recreational areas and will continue to work on encouraging conservation of lands and waters.