The Right Wing In Overalls
By Sean Reagan
Presidential contenders spoke by telephone to the American Farm Bureau Federation’s Council of Presidents meeting earlier this week. Even though the AFB doesn’t endorse candidates, the organization and its state affiliates have long been friendlier with GOP candidates than with Democrats.
Early indications – mostly in campaign donations – show that trend is continuing. But there are also signs the relationship may be starting to fray.
For starters, in 2005-2006, both candidates (while Senators) received relatively low ratings from the organization – 35 out of a possible 100. McCain – even with that (R) after his name – is no darling of the organization.
Given agribusiness’s reliance on diesel and other fuels, the AFB supports ethanol production as well as offshore drilling to ease fuel prices for farmers. McCain has flipped on both these issues. He was against them, now he’s for them: He opposes subsidies for U.S.-based ethanol production but supports sugar-based ethanol from Brazil, and wants to lift the ban on offshore drilling.
But if that appears to tilt the balance McCain’s way, consider the Granddaddy of this year’s agriculture issues: the farm bill. Earlier this year, AFB heartily endorsed it. In language that was not unlike Barack Obama’s, AFBF President Bob Stallman called it “a good, solid bill for American agriculture, American consumers and the environment.”
Against a backdrop of growing global food security concerns, this carefully crafted legislation will give America’s farmers and ranchers a basic package of support that will allow them to continue serving as the world’s major food producers. The three-legged safety net of direct payments, marketing loans and counter-cyclical programs provides our farmers an essential level of financial security at a time when their markets are volatile and expenses such as fertilizer and fuel costs are shooting through the roof.
No farm bill ever is perfect, but this bill includes substantial reforms.
McCain opposed the bill, in classic “throw the baby out with the bath water” form.
Still, agribusiness donations to McCain’s campaign currently stand at $1.47 million, with Obama garnering $910,000. (An interesting side note to those numbers: Mitt Romney – McCain’s whispered V.P. – raised the next highest amount from the ag sector – just under $770,000.). On a state level, of the $330,100 that AFB affiliates have donated to federal candidates, parties and committees, 56 percent has flowed to Republicans.
It’s too early to say that one of the most conservative wings of the farm industry is ready to “go blue,” but the line sure is starting to blur.