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Glickman: Failure of farm bill in 2012 would be failure to face global competition

Dan Glickman

Dan Glickman


By JERRY HAGSTROM

LA QUINTA, Calif. — If Congress cannot pass a farm bill in 2012 it will be a symbol of failure to address the national interest in a period of increasing global competition, former Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman said.

“We do this in peril because competitors are getting their act together and operate as a team,” Glickman said in a speech to the International Dairy Foods Association Dairy Forum here last week.

Glickman, who served as agriculture secretary during the Clinton administration, also said he still believes that a single, all-inclusive farm bill is the best way to handle agricultural legislation.

“It would be a serious mistake not to have a single bill,” Glickman said, adding that rural development and nutrition programs would not fare well if those programs were taken up separately.

Glickman, who co-chairs AGree, a foundation effort to think long-term about farm policy, said his biggest issue is “a research budget that is underfunded and underfocused.” Improving the research budget is “probably not going to happen without a farm bill,” he added.

AGree, Glickman noted, is focused on long-term issues such as genetic modification, food safety, climate change, what people eat and price volatility, and described them as “the issues that get pushed under the rug by the payment structure and levels” in the farm bill debate. When he served on the House Agriculture Committee, Glickman said, members of that committee had the view that they wanted to keep other members “out of our sand box, but those days are over.”

“Food and agriculture policy have achieved a level of high importance,” Glickman noted, adding that when health is connected to agriculture policy, people in agriculture can no longer expect that the only members of Congress who will participate in the farm bill debate are members of the agriculture committees.

Due to increasing world demand, Glickman said, “It’s never been a better time to be involved in agriculture. The glass is half full, not half empty.”

But he told the dairy processors that they need to pay attention to the populist democratic movements inspired by the new social media, and be prepared for quick public reaction organized online. That communication system is particularly important in food safety, he noted.

On dairy policy, Glickman recalled he had approved the Northeast Dairy Compact, a now-expired arrangement that dairy processors opposed. The compact was popular on Capitol Hill, and Glickman approved it even though he was not enthusiastic about it, he said. In the statement that he issued along with the approval, he noted the problems with the compact and thought he was giving a judge reason not to approve it. But the judge said that if the Agriculture secretary thinks this is important, it must be good and approved it anyway.

Speaking of the current proposal for a new dairy program, Glickman said, “I’m not a fan of supply management” in a globalized economy, noting that it’s hard to encourage overseas sales when there may be a limit to supply.

Glickman also said he considers milk marketing orders “not modern.”

"We do need a find a risk management system for producers,” he added, but did not offer any specific alternatives.

Glickman, a Democrat, said he believes that —“all things being equal and they never are” — President Barack Obama has the edge for re-election because he has the advantage in fundraising, the economy is slowly rebounding and Republican candidates keep beating each other up and don’t have an alternate proposal for improving the economy. If Mitt Romney is the nominee, Glickman said, he believes evangelical Republicans will give him only “tepid support.”

Noting that the Democrats need only 25 seats to retake the House of Representatives, and that Republicans have been telling their freshmen House members they are unhappy they agreed to the compromise on the payroll tax relief bill, Glickman said it is “unlikely but not impossible” that the Democrats will retake control of the House.

It will be hard for the Democrats to retain control of the Senate, he said.

The only way that politicians in Washington will stop fighting along partisan lines, Glickman said, is if the public tells the politicians they are sick of it.