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Serving: WI

U.S. Senate Candidates Square Off On Ag Issues

U.S. Senate Candidates Square Off On Ag Issues
Baldwin, Thompson in close race for retiring Senator Herb Kohl's seat.

Wisconsin's U.S. senatorial election on Nov. 6 features challengers U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin, a Democrat, and her Republican rival, former Gov. Tommy Thompson in a tight race to replace retiring Democratic Sen. Herb Kohl.

Baldwin, 50, has served in the U.S. House of Representatives for 23 years. Thompson, 70, was Wisconsin governor from 1987 to 2001 when he was selected to be Secretary of Health and Human Services in the George W. Bush administration. He served in that position until 2005.

Wisconsin Agriculturist asked both candidates questions relating to issues that affect state farmers. Following are their responses.

WISCONSIN U.S. SENATE CANDIDATE: Tommy Thompson, 70, a Republican, was Wisconsin governor from 1987 to 2001 when he was selected to be Secretary of Health and Human Services in the George W. Bush administration. He served in that position until 2005.

Q. What is agriculture's future role in renewable energy? Would you like to see the ethanol blend in gasoline sold in Wisconsin higher than 10%?
I believe Wisconsin farmers will be at the forefront of American energy independence.  I want to see cars run on biofuels made in Wisconsin, not oil imported from Saudi Arabia.  In order to make this happen, we must maintain the gains we have made in biofuel production and invest in next generation advanced biofuels.   I do not believe it's the government's role to mandate that gasoline sold in Wisconsin is higher than 10% ethanol.  While the EPA approved a gasoline blend that is 15% ethanol, it is only approved for certain cars and trucks.  Further, there is no requirement that it must be sold and it should be the consumer's choice to use it if desired. 

WISCONSIN U.S. SENATE CANDIDATE: Tammy Baldwin, 50, a Democrat, has served in the U.S. House of Representatives for 23 years. WISCONSIN U.S. SENATE CANDIDATE: Tommy Thompson, 70, a Republican, was Wisconsin governor from 1987 to 2001 when he was selected to be Secretary of Health and Human Services in the George W. Bush administration. He served in that position until 2005.

Thompson: Current U.S. energy policy is doing nothing to spur economic growth or protect consumers from excessive gas prices.  I am in favor of using Wisconsin's agriculture resources to advance the goal of energy independence, but we must be mindful and continue to promote a responsible balance between energy and food/feed costs, and allow private industry and entrepreneurship to drive the market. 

Q. What are your plans for the next six years to promote the economic strength of agriculture in Wisconsin?
The future of Wisconsin agriculture relies on the certainty provided by a strong five year farm bill.  The Senate has passed a bipartisan Farm Bill that created jobs, reduces the deficit and help farmers suffering from this summer's drought.  The Senate bill also contains significant reforms that ends wasteful direct payments, closes loopholes, ends payments to millionaires and eliminates over 100 programs.  While the Senate has acted, the House of Representatives has yet to pass a bill.  The current Farm Bill expired in September and there's simply no more time for political game playing.  Congress must act now. 

Thompson: I grew up on my family's farm in Elroy, Wisconsin—and I still own and operate it to this day—so I know first-hand how important family owned farms here in Wisconsin are to the economy. I also know how hard men and women across the state work to keep those farms. That's why I strongly oppose The Death Tax on family farms.

The primary burden of the death tax's impact on farms will be borne by families, since 98% of U.S. farms are owned by families or individuals.  These families will struggle to pay the death tax, as 85% of farm assets are tied up in illiquid assets such as land, buildings and equipment.  With so much of the estate's value tied up in these assets, we must work to protect family farms from suffering the burden of paying the death tax.

I also support using Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) to open markets for Wisconsin farmers. FTAs are an important tool in keeping American jobs at home and the U.S. competitive in the global economy.  The recent FTAs have gone to great lengths to promote market access for American farmers and manufacturers.  Agreements like these not only promote America in the global marketplace, but Wisconsin also.


My vision for Wisconsin agriculture in restoring America does not waiver.  That's why the Wisconsin Corn Growers Association, the Wisconsin Pork Association, the Wisconsin Farm Bureau and the Wisconsin Dairy Business Association have all endorsed me for the U.S. Senate.

Q, Should the EPA be allowed to regulate large livestock operations by establishing its own rules, or should it be regulated through legislation?
The EPA should only act in accordance with the law.  EPA does not make laws; it follows laws set forward by Congress, like the Clean Water Act.  To this point, the Clean Water Act directs the EPA to ensure that large livestock operations do not discharge pollutants into navigable waters of the United States.  It does not, however, permit EPA to regulate livestock operations which are not discharging pollutants into navigable waters.

Thompson: The Environment Protection Agency has consistently overstepped its authority when enforcing regulations, especially when it comes to greenhouse gases and the Clean Air Act.  Setting environmental policy is the job of the United States Congress and not the job of unelected bureaucrats in Washington.  We should do all we can to resist burdensome regulations that could have devastating economic effects on our farmers and ranchers.   

Q. Do you support the Dairy Security Act, the farm-level safety net in the proposed 2012 Farm Bill passed by the Senate last June and currently stalled in the House? Why or why not?
Dairy farmers across Wisconsin know that the current dairy safety net program, the Milk Income Loss Contract (MILC) Program needs significant reform.  In 2009, milk prices dropped so low that many dairy farmers lost more than half of their income.  Nationwide, dairy farmers lost more than $20 billion in equity.  As a result, many Wisconsin dairy farmers have gone out of business, lost equity or gone deeply into debt.  Dairy farmers are now experiencing another drop in milk prices, combined with the escalating cost of feed brought on by the excessive drought.  Worse yet, Congress recessed for the election without extending the MILC program, leaving dairy farmers without a safety net. 

If dairy farmers continue to experience the deep losses they incurred in 2009 and now in 2012, our family dairies will be few and far between.  I support the Dairy Security Act because dairy farmers deserve certainty and an end to this constant volatility.  The Dairy Security Act is also flexible in that it is not a mandatory program; it allows dairy farmers choose if they would like to participate. 


Thompson: The House version of 2012 Farm Bill includes a new dairy supply management program tied to a new dairy margin insurance program, and new administrative fees that only apply to dairy farmers, which could reduce overall milk production.  In response, I believe Congress should remove the new government milk supply management program and new fees and provide for a premium structure that makes sense for Wisconsin's dairy farmers.

Q. Would you do anything to strengthen immigration laws?
As Wisconsinites, we have a long history of welcoming immigrants who have contributed to our economy and our culture. Here in our state, 40% of all hired dairy employees are immigrants. Hard working farm families depend on these workers and they are part of our communities. I believe our Wisconsin farmers deserve the security of knowing they'll have an adequate workforce so cows are milked and fed on schedule. Everyone agrees we need to end illegal immigration, protect our border, boost enforcement and make sure our farmers have a stable, legal labor force. I will continue to work with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to pass comprehensive immigration reform. 

Thompson: First and foremost, a secure border is an essential element of our national security and to the economy.  We must provide the Department of Homeland Security will the necessary tools to combat illegal immigration at our borders and ports.

Second, Washington should also work to streamline legal pathways for immigrants to come to our country in search of a better life and a brighter future.

Finally, we must also recognize the importance of a flexible labor market to keep employers in business and our economy moving forward while providing skilled Americans and immigrants with opportunity.  An essential component of immigration reform must include the implementation of temporary worker programs that reflect the labor needs of the United States in both the high-tech and low skilled and agricultural sectors while protecting employment opportunities for U.S. workers.

Q. Why is Wisconsin agriculture important to you?|
One of the many things that make Wisconsin special is our family farms and rural communities. I'm committed to protecting Wisconsin's strong rural and agricultural traditions and heritage, but more importantly, our agricultural future. My work advocating for fair farm policies that allow our farmers to manage their risks – be they natural risks like drought and flood, or man-made risks like unregulated commodity speculation by Wall Street. And I'm committed to continuing that work in order to protect Wisconsin's strong agricultural traditions because I know that agriculture is the engine of our rural economy. When our farms succeed, our rural economy thrives.

Thompson: I was born and raised in Elroy on the family farm that was homesteaded by my great grandfather who immigrated from Ireland. Like so many immigrants at the time, and to this day, he came to America in search of a better life; he was looking for the American Dream and agriculture was his answer.  

A healthy agriculture industry is essential to Wisconsin's economy statewide. We cannot achieve prosperity in Milwaukee without a strong agriculture sector in Mauston.

I grew up on the family farm, which I still own today. With the help of my son and a team of dedicated farmers, we tend to 200 head of cattle and fields of soybeans, corn and other crops. My entire life, I have lived by the values that I learned on the farm—hard work, honesty and the value of a dollar. Those are the values that I not only lived by I governed by, and that I will continue to abide by as Wisconsin's next Senator.

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