Obama Unveils 'Real Leadership for Rural America' Agenda
After hosting a rural issues forum in Adel and a rural policy summit in Tama and directing his staff to conduct more than 30 hearings across Iowa this summer, Senator Barack Obama today unveiled a rural policy agenda that incorporated the insight and ideas from Iowans who live, work and raise a family in a rural community. Sen. Obama's plan is focused on meeting the challenges facing rural communities and capitalizing on the economic opportunity that exists in rural America - particularly in the renewable energy sector.
"Real leadership for rural America starts with one simple principle: listening," said Obama. "You know, when you do get out and talk to folks, you are reminded that there is a lot that all of America can learn from rural America. Because rural values are quintessential American values: hard work and innovation. Rugged independence joined with a belief in community that says that I am my brother's keeper, I am my sister's keeper."
During his remarks at the Williams farm in Linn County, Obama noted the strong connection between farmers and the land they work. He also stressed his commitment to providing incentives to farmers to promote conservation and sustainability.
"In moving forward, we must always stress sustainability and conservation - principles that are best understood by Americans who live and work off the land," Obama said. "That's why protecting our land and water will be a critical part of a new energy policy."
Obama also emphasized how his previously released proposals to lower health care costs, protect pensions, strengthen schools and expand economic opportunity would benefit American families in rural communities. In addition, Obama also highlighted his commitment to issues that get less attention in Washington given their significant impact on quality of life in rural communities.
"A creeping national epidemic of methamphetamine abuse has taken an especially tragic toll on mothers and children here in Iowa," said Obama. "You don't hear much talk about meth in Washington, but you do if you get out and talk to folks who know families that have been split apart, children who have seen their mother act like a different person, small towns plagued by crime. When I'm President, we'll stop seeing meth as a rural challenge and start seeing it as an American one. We'll keep meth out of our country and get it out of our communities, and we'll launch new treatment programs that hold families together while helping parents beat addiction."
Obama also vowed to bring Democrats and Republicans as President to host a rural policy summit meeting in Iowa and offer a proposal in Congress during his first 100 days in office as President.
You can view the entire "Real Leadership for Rural America" plan by clicking here. Listed below is a sample of specific proposals included in Obama's rural agenda:
Strong Safety Net for Family Farmers: The lack of effective payment limitations has resulted in federal farm programs financing farm consolidation and the elimination of many mid-size family farms. Obama agrees with Senators Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA) that we should implement a $250,000 payment limitation. And Obama will ensure those payments go to farmers who need them - not millionaire farmers who rely on American taxpayers to protect their multi-million dollar profits.
Regulate CAFOs: In the Obama Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency will strictly monitor and regulate pollution from large CAFOs, with fines for those who violate tough air and water quality standards. Obama strongly supports efforts to ensure meaningful local control.
Limit EQIP Funding for CAFOs: Obama supports reinstating a strict cap on the size of the livestock operations that can receive EQIP funding so that the largest polluters have to pay for their own environmental clean up.
Encourage Organic and Sustainable Agriculture: Barack Obama will increase funding for the National Organic Certification Cost-Share Program to help farmers afford the costs of compliance with national organic certification standards. He will also reform the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Risk Management Agency's crop insurance rates so that they do not penalize organic farmers.
Invest in Energy Efficiency: Improving energy efficiency is the fastest, cheapest, most cost-effective method to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and it results in significant savings for our government, economy and consumers. Cost effective energy efficiency should take priority over the construction of new generation facilities. Barack Obama will set a bold national goal of reducing the energy intensity of our economy 50% by 2030.
Develop the Next Generation of Biofuels: As we develop the next generation of biofuels we must be vigilant to ensure that we do in a sustainable fashion so that land and water resources are conserved. Obama will invest federal resources, including tax incentives, cash prizes and government contracts into developing the most promising technologies with the goal of getting the first two billion gallons of cellulosic ethanol into the system by 2013. Obama will also work to improve the national supply of advanced biodiesel. From here the Clean Technologies Deployment Venture Fund will speed the deployment of multiple facilities.
Help Small Businesses Afford Health Care: The rural economy is dependent upon small business, but small employers often struggle to offer health coverage to their employees because it is too expensive. Obama's plan will help small employers unable to offer health coverage to their employees by allowing small employers to participate in the National Health Insurance Exchange and purchase either a new public plan or a private plan for their employees. Obama's plan will also provide subsidies for those who need them. Very small businesses will be exempted from the plan's requirement to pay into the system.
Promote Fairness in Medicare and Medicaid Reimbursement: Medicare and Medicaid funding systems have historically penalized rural areas. In fact, Iowa ranks last among the 50 states in Medicare reimbursement rates. These lower reimbursement rates make it difficult for rural areas to recruit and retain doctors. As president, Obama will work to ensure a more equitable Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement structure.
Bring Doctors, Nurses, and other Health Care Professionals to Rural America: Obama will attract providers to rural America by creating a loan forgiveness program for doctors and nurses who work in underserved rural areas. Additionally, he will encourage the expansion of state-of-the-art health professional online education courses to reach students across rural America.
Support Community Colleges in Fulfilling their Mission in Rural America: Obama will provide funding to community colleges to reevaluate the types of skills and education that are in demand from students and local businesses in support of health careers, renewable energy initiatives, and other ventures to revitalize rural economies. This will lead community colleges to implement new associate degree programs that reflect the increasingly dynamic and technical skills required for rural America to respond to a globalizing workforce.
Partner with Landowners to Conserve Private Lands: Because most rural land is privately-owned, farmers, ranchers, and private landowners are the principle stewards of rural land and water. As a U.S. Senator, Barack Obama has supported conservation programs, such as the Conservation Security Program (CSP), that serve as a resource to farmers and assist them with sustainable environmental planning and best land management practices. As president, Obama will put an unprecedented level of emphasis on the conservation of private lands. He will advance legislation that works with landowners and follows in the tradition of the Wilderness Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Clean Air Act to focus federal attention and increased resources for this key environmental issue. He will also increase funding for CSP and the Conservation Reserve Program and will create additional incentives for private landowners for sustainable agriculture to protect and restore wetlands, grasslands, forests and other wildlife habitat.
Eliminate Income Taxes for Seniors Making Less Than $50,000: Obama will eliminate all income taxation of seniors making less than $50,000 per year. This will provide immediate relief to 22 million American seniors who will not need to file an income tax return, and will eliminate all income taxes for nearly seven million seniors at a savings of roughly $1,400 each year.
Provide Cheaper Prescription Drugs: Iowa seniors on Medicare pay 71 percent more for their drugs than veterans who get their prescriptions through the VA, and 47 percent more than those who buy drugs at Canadian pharmacies. Obama believes that the federal government should negotiate for lower drug prices for seniors in the Medicare program, just as it negotiates to obtain lower prices for our veterans. He also supports efforts to allow seniors to import prescription drugs from Canada.