While much of the discourse flowing forth from the 2016 U.S. presidential election might arguably be more productive spread across fields as fertilizer, American farmers know there’s beef in there somewhere.
And even as political pundits perched inside the buildings of New York City preach that the rural vote matters less these days than in those past, the pollsters all agree that the fate of the race will come down to just a handful of proverbial battleground states, almost all rural with deep ties to the agricultural industry.
Sara Wyant, President of Agri-Pulse Communications Inc. and a veteran agriculture policy journalist, noted the irony that while issues specifically described as farm-related haven’t received much attention this year, the overall thrust of the candidates’ platforms is distinctly relevant to rural America and especially those working in the agricultural fields.
“And one of these would be trade,” she said.
A non-partisan observer and reporter on agricultural issues, Wyant said the agricultural industry has been keenly aware of both the Democrat and Republican shift away from free trade policies in their campaign rhetoric, particularly as it relates to the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a 12-nation trade pact vigorously attacked by both of the main parties’ candidates. American producers and growers, proud of their roles in feeding the world, are busily engaged in the discussion at all levels. Likewise, the political discourse on federal immigration policy hits home to many in the field as their seasonal operations rely heavily on foreign labor by way of the U.S. H2A visa program. Balancing the needs of farms using guest workers with regulations ensuring legitimacy of operations is a struggle being carefully watched, as are ongoing proposals by Republicans who hope to separate the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) from the U.S. Farm Bill.
“So there are some really big concerns we’ve had for farmers and ranchers about these issues,” Wyant said, pointing out both parties’ proposals concerning infrastructure spending are also part and parcel to the business of farming which requires roads, bridges and drainage systems.
DEMOCRATIC CANDIDATE: HILLARY CLINTON
Clinton promises to strengthen rural communities by simplifying regulations for community banks and expanding development tax credits for small businesses and improving infrastructure, while partnering the production of clean energy with increased funding for farmers.
Trade: Clinton has vocalized her opposition to the TPP as it is currently proposed, pledging to review any trade policy in terms of America’s interests regarding jobs and economic growth. The Clinton agenda commits to stronger policy in terms of enforcing antitrust and anticompetitive practices as part of a plan to increase wages and job opportunities, suggesting she will advocate targeted tariffs be imposed on imported goods when the products have been priced unfairly in relation to U.S. products.
Inheritance Tax: Clinton supports some changes to the inheritance tax, increasing the rate to 45 percent from the current 40 percent for most estates. For the largest estates (those at more than $500 million for a single person or $1 billion per couple), the rate would jump to 65 percent. Under current law, about 3 percent of farm estates are required to file a return with about 0.8 percent owing a tax, according to the USDA’s Economic Research Service. The 45 percent estate tax applies to estates of $5.45 million for an individual or $10.9 million for a couple. (Editor’s Note: This item was updated after comments that Clinton made on Sept. 22, 2016.)
Immigration: Clinton proposes to introduce comprehensive immigration reform with a pathway to full citizenship; end the 3- and 10-year bar system; defend the Obama administration’s executive actions (DACA and DAPA) protecting individuals potentially in the country illegally; emphasize families in immigration reform; end family detention and close private immigration detention centers; expand healthcare coverage opportunities to individuals regardless of immigration status; and promote naturalization.
Infrastructure: Clinton proposes to, in the first 100 days, put forth a comprehensive infrastructure bill aimed at repairing and expanding roads and bridges; expand public transit options; connect all Americans to the Internet by 2020 with nationwide broadband access; revitalize American airports and national airspace.
Rural Communities: As part of Clinton’s approach to rural communities, she pledges to strengthen the Renewable Fuel Standard and double loans supporting the bio-based economy; increase Early Head Start, universal pre-K and free community college; and support telemedicine and Medicaid expansion. Clinton proposes expansions of background checks for gun owners, as well as increased responsibility placed on the manufacturers of firearms.
REPUBLICAN CANDIDATE: DONALD TRUMP
Trump pledges to renegotiate trade deals in favor of American businesses, to include the agriculture industry, while handling immigration policy and migrant workers with stiffer rules, increased deportations, and heightened border security to include a wall between the U.S. and Mexico. Additionally, Trump has announced an extensive list of individuals to be included on his Agricultural Advisory Committee, ranging from elected office-holders to private sector business-owners.
Trade: Trump has pledged to re-negotiate U.S. trade policies in a comprehensive manner, to include withdrawal from the TPP and re-negotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Trump has also promised to use tariffs as a negotiating tool when dealing with American companies seeking to outsource production, as well as curtail the trade imbalance with nations such as China. Trump also plans to reduce corporate income taxes to 15 percent and re-negotiate U.S. policies with China, a nation he says employs unfair currency manipulation.
Inheritance Tax: Trump pledges to abolish the inheritance tax.
Immigration: Trump pledges to reform U.S. immigration policy from a border-security perspective, to include the creation of a physical wall along the border with Mexico and the expulsion of up to 11 million individuals believed to be living here illegally.
Infrastructure: Trump plans to rescind Obama administration actions such as the Climate Action Plan and the Waters of the U.S. Rule, as well as the Paris Climate Agreement, which he says negatively impact farmers and other carbon-related businesses. Trump is also committed to replacing and rebuilding America’s infrastructure, including roads and bridges.
Rural Communities: Trump endorses federal crop insurance and, in keeping with many Republican legislators, supports a separation of SNAP from the Farm Bill. Trump is also committed to supporting the Second Amendment and expanding its freedoms related to firearms.
GREEN PARTY CANDIDATE: JILL STEIN
Stein brings a so-called eco-justice perspective to the discussion of federal policy, with much to say about U.S. agricultural practices. Stein advocates a return to smaller, decentralized farming operations with an emphasis on environmental sustainability and organic certifications.
Trade: Stein opposes the TPP and NAFTA in favor of local economies and regional trade. Based on the idea that the concept of corporations as for-profit entities is outdated and harmful, Stein argues that the idea of “free trade” is a machination of multinational corporations which places these investor-backed groups above the laws of their home nations. Stein advocates “ecological economics,” which combines private small business, decentralized democratic cooperatives, publicly-owned enterprises, and alternative economic structures.
Inheritance Tax: Stein supports a progressive taxation model that includes the inheritance tax, the estate tax, and a wealth tax of 0.5 percent per year on an individual’s assets over $5 million.
Immigration: Stein argues that much of the current debate about immigration is in point of fact born of unfair trade practices that make it difficult to earn a living in many neighboring countries. Stein advocates permanent border passes be granted to citizens of Canada and Mexico with verifiable identities and opposes militarization of the U.S. border by way of National Guard units or federal police.
Infrastructure: Stein is for the advancement of alternative fuels and transportation with emphasis on mass transit and clean energy. This flows throughout her plan for infrastructure, which emphasizes rail over highway, reduced usage of bridges and roads by way of smaller vehicles, and mass transit. In terms of land usage, Stein states her advocacy for policies that favor small farms and over large, and collectivized ownership over corporate.
Rural Communities: Stein’s positions strongly favor the small farming operation and family-owned businesses over corporate enterprise. Stein opposes high-tech hybrid seed companies and large-scale animal production in favor of smaller farms. At all levels, Stein seeks to encourage environmentalism and reduce the carbon footprint by humans. Stein opposes private ownership of prisons and wants to end the “War on Drugs,” as well as reduce incarceration rates in favor of alternative community-based programs.
LIBERTARIAN CANDIDATE: GARY JOHNSON
Johnson’s Libertarian approach is one that seeks to emphasize the rights of the individual and limitations of government authority and spending. This approach seeks to maximize private enterprise and limit government overreach in all respects to the citizenry.
Trade: Johnson is supportive of free trade, including TPP and NAFTA on the whole. But Johnson distinguishes between free trade and what he calls corporatism, which favors cronyism and corporate bailouts, subsidies, and other government programming. Johnson argues that government itself creates no jobs, rather individuals do and they should be free of government impediments to that end.
Inheritance Tax: Johnson opposes the inheritance tax, as well as special interest tax loopholes and ultimately the elimination of all income and payroll taxes that would be replaced with consumption taxes.
Immigration: Johnson advocates the streamlining of the U.S. immigration policy to increase the efficiency of work visas, background checks, and incentivizing of non-citizens to pay taxes.
Infrastructure: Johnson supports approaches that emphasize privatization and reduce the national debt and overall national spending.
Rural Communities: Johnson is a proponent of civil liberties, the Second Amendment. He opposes farm subsidies along with other government programs of that nature.
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