WASHINGTON, July 13, 2016 - A major item of business for both the Democratic and Republican conventions will be to approve their party platforms, documents that are supposed to explain the party’s positions and help give direction to the candidates’ campaigns.

The GOP draft platform hasn’t been released, but it includes a section on agriculture and energy that calls for fostering “domestic production of our food and natural resources,” said North Dakota delegate Kelly Armstrong, who co-chaired the platform subcommittee that wrote the chapter. “Our farmers and miners and energy producers feed our families, power our homes and are significant economic drivers for a healthy national economy.”

The draft also calls for opening new markets for agriculture, but during debate on the section this week, the GOP platform committee softened that statement by removing the word “multi-lateral” from a reference to trade agreements. That move is a bow to Trump’s criticism of the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership that President Obama finished negotiating last year.

“Given what we’ve just gone through with Obama-trade and the sensitivity toward those type of multinational, multilateral agreements, let’s just drop that phrase completely and let that be open for however they want to open those new markets,” said Texas delegate David Barton. “And that way we don’t create inflammatory language that people are sensitive to right now.”

Committee members from states where there have been clashes over the Endangered Species Act won amendments to the platform specifying three animals that shouldn’t be listed in the delegates’ view - the gray wolf, lesser prairie chicken and sage grouse. The language reflects ongoing efforts by congressional Republicans to block the courts from listing the gray wolves and to stop the Fish and Wildlife Service from listing the prairie chicken or sage grouse.

Minnesota committee member Andy Aplikowski raised concern that the ESA language could hurt Republicans with moderate voters. “If somebody glances at this and sees we oppose chickens, its not going to go well for us out on the campaign trail.”

The platform committee, which met Monday and Tuesday in Cleveland, defeated a proposal by Maine delegate, Eric Brakey, targeting the use of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits to buy junk food. His proposed amendment would have added the sentence, “Welfare dollars for nutritional food should not be spent on candy and soda.”

The amendment likely would have alarmed food manufacturers that support SNAP, and one opponent said it sounded too much like first lady Michelle Obama’s campaign to reduce childhood obesity. “We’re supposed to be the party of individual freedoms where people eat what they feel they need to eat,” said Noel Irwin Hentschel, a platform committee member from California.

Georgia delegate Scott Johnson said the restriction would create problems for retailers. “As an example, a real world example, Oreos were okay, but chocolate-covered Oreos were not because they were considered candy.”

The final Democratic platform hasn’t been released but the draft language would back away slightly from what was a fairly clear endorsement for production agriculture in its 2012 platform, which included this statement: “Democrats support agriculture from the small farms that feed the community to the large farms that feed the world.” 

The 2016 draft doesn’t mention large farms and instead calls for expanding “local food markets and regional food systems” and providing “a focused safety net to assist family operations that need support during challenging times.” The endorsement of a “focused safety net” is compatible with the payment limitations in the 2014 farm bill but would certainly allow for restrictions on crop insurance that are likely to be in play during the next Congress.

During the platform committee’s final deliberations, supporters of the party’s presumptive nominee beat back an effort by backers of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders to add language explicitly opposing congressional approval of the Trans-Pacific Partnership.


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