Post-Bulletin - Obama Talks Rural Policy During Summit in Iowa
By Amy Lorentzen
TAMA, Iowa -- Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama on Friday said Washington has ignored rural America for too long.
"I believe it's time to turn the page on a politics that has turned its back on rural America," Obama said at an event, termed a rural summit, at a high school in central Iowa. "While you're working hard to strengthen your farms, your families, and your communities, small businesses or main streets, our government has been working for big agribusiness."
Over the past decade, he said the country has handed out $1.3 billion in federal farm payments to people who aren't even farmers, with far too much money going to Fortune 500 companies that are "more than profitable enough not to take taxpayer money."
Obama called for changes in the 2007 Farm Bill to address the issue, and said he'll support lowering subsidy payments and reducing the number of multimillionaires eligible for those subsidies.
"That's why I believe we should lower the payment limit to $250,000 annually and make sure those payments go to farmers who need them -- not to millionaires who rely on the American taxpayers to protect their multi-million-dollar profits," he said.
The Illinois senator called the summit to gather policy ideas and comments from experts on rural issues. The event, titled "Real Change for Rural America," focused on rural economic development, quality of life, energy and agriculture.
Obama said he has long worked to support rural America during his time in the Illinois Legislature and the U.S. Senate.
"I have fought these battles for rural America ... I've done it in the statehouse. I've done it in the Capitol of these United States. I intend to do it in the White House as well," Obama said. "I know that what we're talking about is not one single policy, but it's about the future of the young people who are going to be attending Tama High.
"Are they going to be able to come back to a thriving community? Can they put down roots and enjoy the wonderful family and community sprit that exists here because they can make a living and support a family and have good health care and have the opportunity to live out their dreams in this area?"
Gary Lamb, a Chelsea man who has farmed for more than 50 years, was the co-chair of the summit and introduced Obama to a crowd of hundreds.
"Through the years, I've watched with concern and sadness as we've watched good, decent hardworking farm families forced from the land" and rural communities slowly disappear, Lamb said. "Maybe it's time in this country we recognize we need a new vision ... a new kind of agricultural and rural policy."
The event included sessions on a variety of topics, in which experts and others from rural areas talked about such matters as farm prices, sustainable agriculture and how immigration policy affects agriculture. Those who attended gave special emphasis to issues including caps on subsidies, environmental concerns and how to encourage beginning farmers.
After the event, Obama was scheduled to travel to Charles City and take part in the opening of a VeraSun Energy ethanol plant that will make 110 million gallons of the grain-based fuel each year. He was expected to speak at a fundraising dinner in Clear Lake on Friday night.