WASHINGTON – Careful to not let a rare legislative accomplishment go unnoticed, President Obama will jet to an agricultural research hub in Michigan on Friday to sign into law the long-delayed farm bill and deliver a speech on the importance of rural America to the economy.
In his brief trip to Michigan State University in East Lansing, Obama will outline a new administration-wide effort to boost exports from rural America and point to a new report from his economic team on the growth in the agricultural sector.
But Obama’s trip is primarily aimed at highlighting a flash of bipartisan cooperation back in Washington. The $1-trillion bill had been jammed up in a divided Congress for two years. The Agricultural Act of 2014 of will set policy for the next five years on crop subsidies, nutrition programs and food stamps. Like most efforts in Washington, it had become tangled in the debate over government spending.
The final bill represents a compromise between Republican deficit hawks and Democrats seeking to protect safety-net programs. It cuts food stamps by $8 billion over the next decade, much less than the $40-billion reduction initially approved by Republicans in the House.
Obama has praised the bill and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said this week that he believes his department will largely be able to manage the cuts without pushing large numbers of people off the program.
The administration clearly sees the bill as a victory – and will frame it as a success for Obama’s economic agenda. Adjusted for inflation, farm income rose 46% from 2008 to 2013, according to a report from the Council of Economic Advisors. The growth in the agricultural sector was a result of increased productivity, the report said, noting that total U.S. agricultural output has grown at an average annual rate of 1.49% since 1948.
Obama will tour the Michigan Biotechnology Institute, a biofuel research center in Lansing and deliver remarks at the equine center at Michigan State, a leading agricultural research center.
Officials say the president will outline a new export initiative, which includes a series of “Made in Rural America” forums aimed at educating local governments and groups on how to promote exports.
The Agriculture Department will launch a new training programs so its employees can better advise producers on how to connect with foriegn businesses. The administration’s Rural Council, an advisory board, will convene a conference on investing in rural America.