2014 US Senate Election GuidePosted on Oct 15, 2014
A strong agricultural base is essential to any nation’s long-term success and security. Farmers in the United States produce the world’s safest, most abundant and most economical supply of food and fiber. Agriculture also plays a significant role in the production of renewable energy.
After more than two years of debate, extensions and much uncertainty the 2014 Farm Bill, The Agricultural Act of 2014, was signed into law on February 7, 2014. This bill established nutrition, commodity, crop insurance, conservation, and other ag/food programs for the next five years (2014 – 2018). The new farm bill is projected to cost just over $956 billion over the next ten years, with about 80 percent, or just over $760 billion, of the farm bill spending on nutrition programs. USDA is currently working on implementing the programs contained within the new farm bill with farmers anticipating just what some of the key programs will contain, and when signups will be held.
We support a consistent long-term market oriented farm policy that will provide an effective safety net for agriculture with an emphasis on commodity, working lands conservation, crop insurance, research and education and rural development programs.
- How would you further strengthen national farm policy to protect our nation’s safe and nutritious food supply by ensuring American agriculture remains a viable industry?
Alison Lundergan-Grimes: I would fight to make certain that the Farm Bill never is allowed to expire. I would support programs that expedite Kentucky agricultural exports, including reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank. I will vote for comprehensive immigration reform, oppose over-burdensome environmental and food-labeling burdens, and work to shield federal agricultural programs from arbitrary budget cuts.
- In what ways should revenue assurance and crop insurance programs play a more significant role in national farm policy?
Mitch McConnell: The 2014 Farm Bill I worked to pass included two new crop insurance programs, as well as a new dairy insurance program. I also was able to secure report language directing a specific study on potential crop insurance for alfalfa. Additionally, the bill reauthorized disaster assistance programs that are retroactive to 2012, a year of serious drought. These programs will help farmers continue to put food on American dinner tables during times of weak markets and natural disaster.
- How would you support young and beginning farmers in future farm policy?
Additionally, during the New Years Eve 2012 fiscal cliff negotiations, I negotiated a permanent increased exemption on the death tax set at $5 million with a top rate of 40 percent, indexed for inflation. This allows young farmers to maintain family farming traditions without having to worry about paying the death tax.
Alison Lundergan-Grimes: In the Senate, I will work to increase federal education funding to public high schools, community colleges and universities for training in agricultural pursuits. I will also fight to expand access to capital for our young farmers through federal farm loan programs and improve quality-of-life in our rural areas to support our farm families.
International Trade & Marketing
Kentucky has a very diverse, and robust, agricultural industry. Cash receipts for agriculture in Kentucky for 2013 totaled over $6 billion. Since 2001, farmers have made extensive investment to enhance their production, but now increased market access is needed to increase net farm income for Kentucky farmers. The World Trade Organization (WTO) and free trade agreements (FTA’s) affect how U.S. farmers compete on the world market, and uniform international phytosanitary guidelines are critical to trade.
We strongly believe in fair and open world trade. We also believe that crops produced with biotech traits are safe and important to meeting the rising world demand for food. As new traits are developed, they should be closely tested with the use of sound science. When approved, these new food products should be aggressively supported through domestic and foreign trade policy.
- How can future FTA’s be developed to enhance market opportunities for Kentucky and U.S. farmers?
Mitch McConnell: I supported past U.S. trade agreements with Colombia, Panama, and South Korea when they came before the Senate and was pleased when they were signed into law in October 2011. I would now like to see Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) enacted in an effort to complete the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (T-TIP). Unfortunately, the President has not made trade a priority and has permitted his party, led by Harry Reid in the Senate, to block TPA. My opponent’s strong supporters, the AFL-CIO, also oppose TPA and she has refused to state her position on recent trade deals.
- What market policies should be in place to ensure U.S. farmers can participate in fair and open world trade?
Alison Lundergan-Grimes: Free trade must always be fair trade, in terms of labor standards, as well as with regards to tariffs and other barriers. Trade agreements should always include all agricultural products (including tobacco), ensure access for biotechnology products and eliminate or curtail use of geographic indications.
- What are your views on how foods containing GMO crops should be labeled for the domestic market and treated in international trade agreements?
Mitch McConnell: Globally, the needle is pointing towards GMO labeling requirements. Should the U.S. pursue similar requirements, they should be consistent and not a patchwork of 50 different state laws. Kentucky farmers looking to sell GM goods in both Kentucky and Indiana should not be subject to two different labeling requirements. Also, such standards should not disadvantage GM goods by implying they are less nutritious or safe than non-GM goods, as science does not back this claim.
The national debt continues to grow and threatens our nation’s economic stability. Farmers must watch their bottom line to remain financially stable, just as the federal government should. Balancing the federal budget and reducing the national debt through spending restraint and reducing the rate of growth rather than increasing the American tax burden will be important to the economic recovery and growth of our country.
Another item of particular interest to our members and to all of business is Section 179 - The Small Business Expensing Section of the IRS code. In 2013 the maximum deduction was $500,000 of purchased property reduced dollar for dollar when investments exceeded $2 million. The current maximum deduction is $25,000. Farming requires large capital investments and farmers place great value on this tax code provisions that allows them to write off capital expenditures in the year that purchases are made. Kentucky Farm Bureau supports allowing at least $500,000 of expenses to be deducted under Section 179 and indexed for inflation.
- What is your level of concern about the size of our nation’s deficit?
Alison Lundergan-Grimes: The size of the federal deficit and national debt should concern us all. The deficit poses long-term risks of high interest and stifled growth. In the Senate, I will work with Republicans and Democrats to balance the budget the right way by cutting waste, fraud, and abuse, streamlining government programs, and investing taxpayer dollars smarter.
- What measures would you support to reduce deficit spending and our national debt?
Mitch McConnell: Again, the Budget Control Act I negotiated represented hard-won progress toward reducing our nation’s long-term debt in what has been the only item of true spending cuts enacted during the Obama Administration and it did so without raising taxes. My opponent has yet to name a spending program she would cut.
- Do you support the effort to make permanent an increase to $500,000 for accelerated depreciation on business assets under Section 179?
Alison Lundergan-Grimes: Yes, I strongly support making permanent a maximum deduction of $500,000 under Section 179 for accelerated depreciation when investments exceed $2 million. In addition, the deduction should be indexed for inflation.
Access to affordable health care continues to be a high priority for our members. The cost of health care is a direct out-of-pocket expense for farmers like other small business owners. We support comprehensive affordable health care for all U.S. citizens and believe health care is primarily the responsibility of the individual. We support efforts to improve health care delivery and foster health care competition. We support federal tax policies that encourage individuals to prepare for future health care needs. Patient rights to choose physicians and methods of treatment should be protected.
- What steps would you advocate be taken to provide all Americans with affordable, quality health care?
Mitch McConnell: Unfortunately, the President’s health care reform, which my opponent has embraced, has created higher premiums and deductibles and has caused tens of thousands of Kentuckians to receive policy cancellation notices. Moreover, it has lowered quality of care. Obamacare should be repealed and replaced with common sense reforms that actually lower costs and that Americans actually support. These reforms include allowing individuals and businesses to purchase insurance across state lines, permitting small businesses to pool their resources and reforming the medical liability system that is currently driving up the cost of care due to frivolous lawsuits.
Immigration & Farm Labor
Farmers routinely face a shortage of workers to perform labor on many aspects of production often placing in jeopardy the planting or harvesting of perishable crops. Often, migrant workers are the only group willing to perform many tasks, but securing legal workers can be a bureaucratic nightmare. The H-2A program is utilized by many Kentucky farmers to secure laborers for tobacco production but it is in dire need of simplification and reform. Domestic laborers simply are not available, or do not want to perform the tasks required with many agricultural jobs.
- What legislative reforms would you support to help farmers secure a willing, legal workforce?
Alison Lundergan-Grimes: The failure of Congress to enact comprehensive immigration reform has saddled Kentucky’s farmers with a dysfunctional migrant worker program. In the U.S. Senate, I will work across party lines to pass comprehensive immigration reform to provide our Kentucky farmers with an adequate supply of legal workers.
- Can the H-2A program be reformed to make it easier, and more cost effective, for Kentucky farmers to utilize, or should we develop a new program to provide stability to meet our farm labor needs?
Mitch McConnell: I understand farmers’ frustrations with the current agricultural legal immigration program—the H-2A program. It is administered by a hostile Department of Labor, is paperwork intensive and is too slow to address seasonal needs. Despite conflicting ideas on other aspects of immigration reform, Congress agrees H-2A needs improvement. I will work to makes these changes should Congress take up an immigration reform proposal that also adequately secures our borders.
- What additional efforts would you support to help farmers be able to secure the necessary labor to produce our country’s food, fiber and energy?
Alison Lundergan-Grimes: I join the American and Kentucky farm bureaus in supporting U.S. Department of Labor approval of joint contracts among farmers, staggered entry dates for workers within a single contract and streamlined hiring requirements.
Complying with environmental regulations is something farmers face daily whether it is in their livestock operations or crop production practices involving pesticides or fertilizers. Federal regulations must be based on sound science and not create undue financial burdens on typical farming operations.
Of particular concern is the effort to redefine waters of the United States under the Clean Water Act. Currently the Clean Water Act regulates truly
navigable waters and streams with both permanent and seasonal flows, but removing the word ‘navigable’ from the definition of waters of the U.S. would open the door to the broadest possible interpretation of the law. This could significantly impede common agricultural practices, impose additional unfunded mandates on state and local governments, and limit some uses of private property.
- What steps would you take to assure that all Federal regulations affecting production agriculture are based on sound science and cost benefit analysis?
Mitch McConnell: President Obama’s regulations are too often driven by extremist environmental ideologies, and not by sound science and cost benefit analysis. These are the same radical environmentalists who have contributed heavily to my opponent’s campaign. During the 2014 Farm Bill conference, the Chairwoman of the Agriculture Committee, Debbie Stabenow, stripped a provision I supported requiring all new rules be based on sound science—and not on unproven, politically convenient information that gives the administration a green light to further regulate farmers.
- What impact do you see occurring if the term “navigable” is removed from the definition of “waters of the U.S.”? Would you support such legislation or any regulation that would redefine 'Waters of the US?'
Alison Lundergan-Grimes: The proposed EPA rule should be ditched. Removal of the word “navigable” poses serious risk that federal agencies would usurp the authority previously left to state regulators and could extend Clean Water Act provisions to private water resources on farms, placing an unnecessary burden on our farmers. As Senator, I will oppose such legislation or regulations that seek to redefine “Waters of the U.S.”
- What efforts would you recommend to make sure the environment is protected but regulations do not create an undue economic burden relative to the Clean Water Act?
Mitch McConnell: Kentucky farmers take pride in their craft and often reside on their land where they also raise their families. As such, Kentucky farmers are some of the best environmental stewards around. As I previously stated, should I become Majority Leader of the Senate, legislation reining in EPA regulatory overreach on farmers, coal and Kentucky small businesses would be among the first measures I would work send to the President’s desk. My opponent, however, twice supported Obama even after his radical environmental, anti-business agenda became clear.
- What can be done to minimize the impact recently announced Clean Air Act rules will have on agriculture?
In short, Kentucky farmers need less of the Obama administration, not more, and more clout, not less—all of which will be made possible if I am Majority Leader of the Senate next year.
Alison Lundergan-Grimes: These new Clean Air Act rules could pose potential undue burdens for our farmers. I stood up to President Obama to oppose the recent EPA rules. In the Senate, I will use every lever of influence to reign in the EPA and push back against overreaching bureaucratic regulations. EPA regulations should never exceed the intent and authority of federal legislation.