With two costly wars raging in Iraq and Afghanistan, a collapse of the housing market, a meltdown of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and the financial institutions on Wall Street, sky-high energy costs, a health care crisis looming and rising unemployment in this country, it's any wonder why either Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., or Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., would want to be our nation's next president. It's a safe bet whoever is elected they will inherit a really big mess. Both men are to be commended for wanting to step up to the plate to tackle that responsibility.
But beyond the front page headlines, how much do you really know about the candidates and where they stand on agriculture-related issues? According to a recent study, 28% of voters vote for the wrong candidate. I read that more than one-quarter of voters support a candidate who they thought agreed with their position on an issue only to find out the opposite was true.
For example, in this election, did you know that one candidate voted for the 2008 farm bill, is committed to renewable fuels and ethanol in particular, has set a goal of having 60 billion gallons of U.S. fuel come from biofuels by 2022, voted for Country Of Origin Labeling and signed the Milk Income Loss Contract extension – a program that provides Wisconsin dairy farmers with a safety net during low milk price years?
If you guessed that person was the Republican candidate, you would be wrong. It's Obama. In fact, McCain has had a longstanding opposition to ethanol and now so does his party. The Republican Party stunned corn growers recently after adopting a new resolution calling for repeal of the Renewable Fuels Standard. Specifically on ethanol, the policy states "The U.S. government should end mandates for ethanol and let the free market work."
Corn growers and the ethanol industry are disappointed in this plank put in the Republican platform at the GOP's 2008 National Convention. The new statement directly opposes the strong support for the RFS in the 2007 energy bill, which was backed by Republicans and Democrats in Congress and by President George W. Bush.
The new GOP position marks a major change from its 2004 party platform, which called for expanding the use of ethanol as a way to reduce dependence on foreign oil and increase revenue for farmers.
Eliminating the Renewable Fuels Standard has the potential to undermine the next generation of renewable fuels still in development stage. If people see ethanol being undermined by government policy, it'll make investors very hesitant to finance development of alternative fuels like cellulosic ethanol. Ethanol and biodiesel are the only renewable liquid fuels in use today helping reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil and cutting the price of a gallon of gasoline by as much as 50 cents a gallon. Ethanol is particularly important to Wisconsin farmers – two in five acres of corn grown in the Dairy State are used in the production of ethanol.
How do the candidates fare on issues related to taxes? According to his platform and his response to a Q. and A. conducted with the candidates by Farm Progress Companies, Obama says he "plans to maintain current capital gains rate for those with incomes below $250,000. Those in the top two income brackets would pay a new rate of 20%. Obama says he plans to lower income taxes to those earning (netting) less than $250,000 a year and raise taxes to those earning more. McCain says, "I will keep the top tax rate at 35%, maintain the 15% rates on dividends and capital gains, and phase-out the Alternative Minimum Tax."
While a candidate's stand on issues affecting agriculture is important, the main challenge facing the next president will be to provide leadership. The next president will need to lead Congress to come up with solutions that will help solve this country's energy, health care and financial issues.
Whether you are a Republican, a Democrat or an Independent, I urge you to get out and vote on Tuesday, Nov. 4 in what many are calling "the most important election in our lifetime." Vote like your future and the future of the other 300 million Americans living in this country depends on it – because it does.
To read the entire Farm Progress Companies Q&A, click on Web exclusives.