President Trump has dominated all the press headlines in recent days.
Joe Biden has been President for a month and now Tom Vilsack has just been approved as our new Secretary of Agriculture. I am happy to see Tom Vilsack stepping back into the job that he held for 8 years under President Obama. At least, he already understands the responsibilities that an Ag Secretary must face.
At the top of his list will be the Coronavirus fallout and the $1.9 trillion relief bill. Agriculture will have interest in the bill. It provides $23 billion in new money for agriculture and nutrition. More family food boxes will be on the way. More foreign workers for the ag industry will receive legal status. Consolidation in the ag industry is a big concern. Look for more antitrust enforcement.
Many of President Biden’s priorities that impact agriculture could be helpful. I am very pleased to see EPA moving to support ethanol by limiting the small refinery waivers. However, I am afraid the huge virus relief spending bill will deliver costly inflation. The bill also appears to be just handing money out to everyone. $1.9 trillion is not small change, and from what I read only 10% of the money goes for pandemic relief. The rest is just a handout to buy support and votes. Here are some examples where the money goes.
1. $300 million to the Endowment for the Arts
2. $300 million to Endowment for the Humanities
3. $300 million to migrant and refugee assistance
4. $10,000 per student for loan bailout
5. $300 million to public broadcasting
6. $500 million to museums and libraries.
7. $35 million to the JFK Center for Performing Arts
8. $300 million for international disaster assistance
The list goes on and on. Our debt level has exploded since the pandemic and we need to have some spending discipline. I admit that there are those that can use the money, but do our taxpayers have to satisfy everyone’s wish list? There are countries that are deep in debt that are starting to impose a wealth tax. Argentina and other South American countries are taking the lead. Is this what the U.S. will need to do?
President Biden has pledged to bring about bipartisanship to bring the country back together. The way the bill is written now it will not get any Republican votes. Even President Obama’s former Secretary of the Treasury Larry Sommers thinks the bill is too expensive.
After the election we all read about President Trump challenging the results. However, we also are reading about President-Elect Biden’s possible nominees for his cabinet. We know they are all important, but for agriculture and rural America, the choice for Secretary of Agriculture has been at the top of the list. In one of my commentaries, I suggested Collin Peterson would be an outstanding pick. I said we needed someone who knows rural America and the farmers and ranchers. Thank you to Joe Biden for turning to Tom Vilsack and asking him to come back to USDA and take charge. He served as Ag Secretary for President Obama for 8 years. He knows where the office is and where to hang his coat. Marshall Matz, a partner in the OFW Law Firm chaired the Obama rural campaign in 2008.
Here is what he said, “Tom Vilsack’s commitment to rural America is as strong as the President Elect’s commitment to fight for the soul of America. A long list of farm, food, and rural leaders across the nation have stood up in support of Tom Vilsack’s second tour.”
I want to be sure to thank Sonny Perdue for the outstanding job he has done as Secretary of Agriculture. The minute he was confirmed he hit the road speaking and meeting with farm leaders all across the nation. In these tough times with trade wars and the coronavirus pandemic, he has helped to find financial support for our farmers and feed the poor. We say, Thank you Mr. Secretary, for your service.
Thinking about feeding people. Here is what the World Food Programme Chief had to report. “For millions and millions of people on earth, famine is at humanity’s doorstep.” 100 million received food from the World Food Program this last year. We averted famine after doing so much over recent years to eliminate extreme poverty in nations around the world. Today 270 million are on the brink of starvation.
Finally, in closing I ask the question – will the politicians at long last pass an annual budget and a coronavirus relief package? Or will they shut down the government? We should know this week.
Another President Trump promise has been kept. Amy Coney Barrett is now a member of the U.S. Supreme Court. Lead Democrat in the Senate, Chuck Schumer said “Confirmation of a lifetime appointment this late into presidential election season is outrageous.” The Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell responded, “the Senate is doing the right thing.” I understand Senator Schumer’s opposition to the confirmation. He had hoped that Biden would beat Trump in the election and perhaps also if the Democrats could take control of the Senate – maybe they could fill the seat held by the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Timing is everything. Now Republicans have a strong conservative majority on the court – six to three.
The vote to confirm Justice Barrett was 52-48. Every Republican Senator except 1 voted for her but no Democrats. President Trump said, “she will make an outstanding Justice on the highest court.” She is the first Republican woman to be seated on the Court since Sandra Day O’Connor in 1981 by President Reagan. That was my first year as U.S. Secretary of Agriculture.
Justice Barrett is the first Justice to have school age children. She has 7, and 2 of them were adopted. Democrats hope to see Biden win the election and win a majority in the Senate. Then with that majority power, they could pass legislation to increase the number of members of the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court has had 9 justices for the last 150 years. President Roosevelt tried to “Pack the Court” back in the 1930s. He didn’t’ get it done. We don’t want that to happen now either. Justice Barrett and the other eight Justices will go to work next week. There is a list of important issues on the table. That includes regulatory cases, a Fish and Wildlife Service issue, and President Trump wants illegal immigrants to be excluded from the Census. I agree with the President that they should not be counted. The Court will decide. Be sure to vote next week!
This year has been one for the record book, and it’s not over yet. We were riding a wave of success when it started with the lowest unemployment in years – rising wages and the ag industry had an exciting trade deal with China. Then along came the Coronavirus – killing millions of people all around the world. No one can be certain of safety. In the spring when the virus hit and devastated New York and California, rural America hoped it might miss us. No way – it went to Texas and Florida and now the Midwest is the latest hot spot. The Dakotas, Iowa, Wisconsin and spreading fast. There is no escape.
Now – President Trump has the virus. We are happy he seems to be recovering quickly. We pray for all individuals and families that have had to deal with this. It has been a major disruption of global trade. Jobs have been lost. Many of the world’s countries that used to be big customers of ours just don’t have the money to buy our export goods. Our U.S. trade deficit hit a record high in August - $67 billion including services. The deficit in goods – almost $84 billion. China seems to be recovering faster than a lot of other countries. The Washington Post writes: “Economies in Europe, Japan, Brazil and India all are projected to suffer deeper recessions this year than the U.S. U.S. output is expected to drop 4% while Europe will experience a 7% decline.” If we are going to recover from the virus recession, we will have to do it without much help from overseas.
Here is another challenge that we face here in the U.S. Wildfires in California, Oregon, and Washington. Fires have burned more than 4 million acres. We may have a shortage of California wine now. Everyone is looking for who to blame. Fires in the West are not new. But they are worse this year. It is warm. Can we blame climate change? But we are not going to fix climate change overnight. We could, however, do a much better job of managing our forests. All the dead trees, wood, and leaves are just waiting for the first spark. Stop worrying about the spotted owl. Clean up our forests. If we don’t, the owl will burn with everything else.