WASHINGTON, January 25, 2012 -In his fourth State of the Union speech last night, President Barack Obama focused on key themes of job creation, economic fairness and the need to restore the American dream. He consistently positioned himself as a bi-partisan doer, anxious to move the country forward despite a reluctant Congress, all too often embroiled in partisan bickering.

Obama recalled his grandparents, who he said believed in “the basic American promise that if, you worked hard, you could do well enough to raise a family, own a home, send your kids to college, and put a little away for retirement”  as examples of those  who lived the American dream.

“The defining issue of our time is how to keep that promise alive,” Obama said. “What's at stake are not Democratic values or Republican values, but American values. We have to reclaim them.”

The president asked the Congress to set aside their differences and deliver several different proposals to his desk, including those that would rebuild infrastructure and address more contentious issues like immigration and tax reform.

He made several references to agriculture and Rural America, but not in a way that one might expect. The word “rural” was mentioned once in connection with the need for broadband, the word “farmers” twice, and “milk” three times. He said that he had ordered every federal agency to eliminate regulations that don’t make sense and cited the spilled milk rule as an example.

“We got rid of one rule from 40 years ago that could have forced some dairy farmers to spend $10,000 a year proving that they could contain a spill – because milk was somehow classified as an oil,” Obama said. “With a rule like that, I guess it was worth crying over spilled milk,” he added, generating laughter from his distinguished audience.

But the President did not cite several other regulations, like one proposed by the Dept. of Labor to restrict children working on farms, or EPA regulations that many farmers and ranchers view as classic examples of federal overreach.

Obama mentioned the word “energy” 23 times and gave strong endorsements for wind, solar and alternative energy, noting the need to train workers for new jobs in these imporant areas. He also called for the elimination of oil subsidies and the importance of renewable energy, without mentioning ethanol or biodiesel. “This country needs an all-out, all-of-the-above strategy that develops every available source of American energy – a strategy that’s cleaner, cheaper, and full of new jobs,” he emphasized.

Ethanol advocates applauded the president’s focus on American energy sources.

“We applaud the President’s announcement that he is going to push for homemade, U.S.-energy after 40 years of being addicted to foreign oil. We have to move ahead with American ethanol as part of that solution,” said Tom Buis, CEO of Growth Energy.

Obama’s speech served as the kickoff for a series of initiatives that Cabinet members will be detailing during a series of meetings in key campaign battleground states in the coming weeks. With the presidential election just 10 months away, several members of Congress had trouble believing that the speech offered much more than talking points for the campaign trail.

“Tonight’s speech started with a lot of lofty rhetoric, some of which I agree with like innovative Community College programs to train workers and removing burdensome regulations,” said Sen. Mike Johanns, R-Neb. “We have, however, heard lofty rhetoric from this president in the past that just hasn’t matched his policies of big government, more spending and higher taxes. Only time will tell if that will be the case once again.

Delivering the GOP response, Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels offered a crisp counterpunch.

“The most troubling contention in our national life these days isn’t about economics, or policy at all. It’s about us, as a free people. In two alarming ways, that contention is that we Americans just can’t cut it anymore,” Daniels said. “In word and deed, the president and his allies tell us that we just cannot handle ourselves in this complex, perilous world without their benevolent protection. Left to ourselves, we might pick the wrong health insurance, the wrong mortgage, the wrong school for our kids; why, unless they stop us, we might pick the wrong light bulb!”


Original story printed in January 25, 2012 Agri-Pulse Newsletter.

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