The Food, Conservation and Energy Act of 2008 received more than 80 votes when it passed the U.S. Senate not once but three times after Congress voted to override then-President Bush’s two vetoes.
Most senators have moved on to other issues, but Sen. Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark., is not letting one particular senator forget his vote for the legislation, she told members of the Delta Council attending the organization’s 74th annual meeting in Cleveland, Miss.
“You can also be certain I will continue to remind President Obama that he voted for this farm bill,” said Lincoln. “And it is important for him and his secretary of agriculture to continue to implement the bill, which he supported, in the manner in which Congress intended.”
The new farm bill was one of a number of issues discussed by Lincoln during her remarks at the Delta Council meeting. As she often did during the nearly two years of debate over the law, Lincoln attempted to set the record straight on several fronts.
“I continue to be a leading voice in trying to help President Obama, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and my colleagues in the Senate fully understand the complexity of Southern agriculture,” she said. “That has earned me the reputation of being a ‘steel magnolia,’ but sometimes that’s just the attitude you have to take.”
Lincoln is a senior member of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, and recently was named chair of the Subcommittee on Rural Revitalization, Conservation, Forestry and Credit. She chaired the Subcommittee on Production, Income Protection and Price Support during the farm bill debate. She also serves on the Finance and Energy Committees.
“The farm bill is critically important to producers of Southern commodities in the Delta region,” Lincoln said. “The bill ensures that they have the tools to produce an affordable, safe, and abundant food and fiber supply, upon which our nation and the world depend.”
Although the Obama administration has proposed eliminating direct payments to producers with gross revenues of more than $500,000 and placing a strict cap of $250,000 on farm program payments in the 2010 federal budget, Lincoln said the House and Senate must continue to resist those changes.
“The farm bill is a contract the federal government has made with producers to provide them with a safety net,” she said. “Changing the rules before the farm bill is fully implemented is not fair to those producers or to the institutions that provide them with the capital they need to continue to farm in this economic environment.”
She said the Bush administration’s adjusted gross income limit of $200,000 would have “crippled producers in the South,” and said the Obama administration’s proposal to cap direct payments could have much the same impact.
A member of a seventh-generation farm family in Helena in east Arkansas, Lincoln reminisced about water-skiing on Moon Lake near Clarksdale, Miss., on Sunday afternoons. She also talked about her rice farmer father’s admonition that she become familiar with the larger world because U.S. agriculture’s future would be played out on the world stage.
“As the daughter of an Arkansas rice farmer who grew up in the heart of the Delta, I share the Delta Council’s commitment to making significant investments in the people and communities of our area,” Lincoln said. “We are divided by a river, but we share the same goals and priorities.”
Throughout her career in Congress, Lincoln has been a leading advocate on behalf of the Delta region. In 2000, she led efforts to establish the Delta Regional Authority, a federal agency designed to channel resources, aid and guidance for economic development to the Mississippi Delta region.
In her speech, Lincoln said initiatives in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (federal stimulus package) will help create jobs and make investments in rural infrastructure projects of particular importance to the Delta, including broadband technology, school construction, highways, bridges, and flood controls.
It also includes critical support for the U.S. farm raised catfish industry, which is a significant employer throughout the Delta and is in a period of economic distress due to high input costs and imports of foreign-raised catfish, she noted.
“I continue to fight to ensure American agriculture gets the respect it deserves in the world marketplace because the world market for our farmers is not free or fair,” said Lincoln. “We also must be aggressive in looking for new markets for our goods. Trade with Cuba and free trade agreements, like the ones negotiated with Colombia and Panama, provide excellent opportunities for American producers.”
The senator has also been involved in the debate on health care reform, currently before the Finance Committee of which she is also a member. “Families across the Delta and in rural communities face rising health care costs and barriers to quality and affordable health care,” Lincoln said.
“That’s why, during my career in the Senate, I’ve introduced legislation to reduce the number of uninsured Americans and address the needs of small businesses and the self-employed. As we tackle health reform, it’s also important to focus on disease prevention and wellness, as many individuals in the Delta battle obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.”
Following Lincoln’s speech, outgoing Delta Council President John Phillips introduced Travis Satterfield, a rice and soybean farmer from Benoit, Miss., as the next president of the Delta Council. Satterfield will serve as president until next year’s annual meeting.