WISCONSINREPORT.COM (06/20/08) - Wisconsin Farm Bureau leaders were in Washington D.C. this week (June 14-18) to lobby lawmakers on pressing issues facing agriculture and give first-hand accounts of flood damage. Immigration, trade agreements, ag exports, and oil drilling inside the USA and offshore, were all hot topics during the visit, which included a tour of the White House.
“Our members did a great job of expressing the need for leadership when it comes to big issues like energy, trade and immigration policy,” said Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation president Bill Bruins.
“Our congressional leaders need to see a live body and hear a live voice before they are really convinced that there are real problems out on the countryside,” Bruins explained.
“It’s interesting to see the faces of the congressional delegation when we walk into their office with 25 people all actively engaged in farming,” Bruins said.
Immigration was a hot topic of conversation while the contingent of Wisconsin farmers visited the American Farm Bureau Federation and the U.S. Department of Agriculture offices.
Paul Schlegel, who works on the immigration issue for AFBF, encouraged farmers to tell lawmakers that agriculture needs a legal labor force, or it risks losing upwards of $9 billion in annual production. The issue is a hot-button for labor unions and conservative Republicans, and nobody that Farm Bureau members spoke to saw any movement on the issue until after the November election.
Following a tour of the White House, Farm Bureau members met with Hunter Morehead, an agriculture and trade advisor to President Bush. He reported on efforts to normalize trade of U.S. beef to South Korea amid protests there, and noted that some of the protesting is not just about food safety, but how their government when about negotiations.
Morehead said that while ag exports are breaking records, the political atmosphere in Congress is very difficult regarding further trade agreements such as one with Colombia. He also said he fears the Congress will advance a bill that takes steps to take index traders out of commodity trading markets in an effort to curb speculation.
Jim Holte, a Farm Bureau board member from Elk Mound agreed by saying, “We’re more comfortable with supply and demand working this out than the government.”
The White House advisor also gave a preview of the public debate that would begin the next day about drilling for oil in the United States and off its coasts.
“We have countries like Cuba drilling 45 miles from the southern tip of Florida, but we can’t,” Morehead explained. “Environmentalists control the issue … but Americans have never faced $4.50 diesel. It’s going to get hot and heavy.”
Congressman Paul Ryan also spoke of the need for more domestic oil drilling when he spoke to the Farm Bureau. The Janesville Republican predicted that passing legislation to drill in northern Alaska would send a message to the oil markets that would immediately drop gas by 70 cents on the day it passes. Such a measure would take 60 votes in the Senate, and all agreed that those votes are currently not there.
Most Democrats, including Senator Russ Feingold, told Farm Bureau members that such a move would not be an immediate injection into the fuel supply. Many congressional offices indicated that drilling leases already exist on federal lands and the outer inter-continental shelf, but drilling is not taking place.
“After our congressional visits we’ve begun studying where the truth lies on this important issue and what we can do to increase domestic oil production,” Bruins said.
One thing that both Ryan and Feingold did agree on was that increased gas prices cannot be blamed on ethanol. Both support exploring a broad base of energy sources. Ryan also said he wants to streamline the process of building an oil refinery.
Ryan also spoke of his ‘Roadmap for America’s Future’ plan that calls for reforms to the health care system, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, and a simplification of the tax code. He said most lawmakers don’t propose such sweeping changes because they are concerned about their next election.
“The problem with that is the election comes every other year out here,” he said.
Farm Bureau members also spoke with the Kohl and Feingold offices about taking the steps to ensure legal authority to plant emergency crops on some washed out fields to maximize the soil’s nutrients and provide some feed for livestock producers.
Members of the WFBF Board of Directors in attendance were: Bill Bruins, Fond du Lac County; Dick Gorder, Iowa County; Dave Daniels, Kenosha County; Jerry Bradley, Dane County; Lloyd DeRuyter, Sheboygan County; Wayne Staidl, Marinette County; Don Radtke, Marathon County; Miranda Leis, Monroe County; Melanie Peterson, St. Croix County; and Jim Holte, Dunn County.
Joining the board were graduates of the inaugural Wisconsin Farm Bureau Institute; a new one-year premier leadership training program. Those members included: Tim Haack, Fond du Lac County; Ralph Levzow, Columbia County; Kevin Krentz, Waushara County; Pam Keller, Winnebago County; Carla Hargrave, Green Lake County; Kathleen Tober, Walworth County; Leslie Ertl, Wood County; Char Rasmussen, Clark County; Jeff Ditzenberger, Green County; Katie Reichling, Lafayette County; Mike Winker, Ozaukee County; and Patrick Schaffer, Eau Claire County.
Jillian Beaty of Rock County, winner of the 2007 state discussion meet winner and national finalist, also attended the fly-in.