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Romney/Ryan top topic as Republicans host Great American Farm Lunch at convention

2012_0829_RNC_FarmLunch Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam addresses those attending the Great American Farm Lunch, hosted in Tampa today in conjunction with the Republican National Convention. (The Hagstrom Report/Jerry Hagstrom)
By JERRY HAGSTROM

TAMPA — Republican lawmakers, farm lobbyists and about 50 farmers celebrated American agriculture at a lunch during the GOP national convention here today, but the pressing question of when Congress will pass the next farm bill took a back seat to calls for the election of presidential candidate Mitt Romney and other Republicans in order to reduce regulation and taxes and promote foreign trade.

Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, which operates the Center for Elephant Conservation in central Florida, provided elephant centerpieces for each table.

Although the 500 attendees at the Great American Farm Lunch included heads of groups that technically remain politically neutral, Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam told the audience to work hard for Romney and his running mate, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis.

“Don’t play it safe. We need a total victory,” said Putnam, who chairs Romney’s Florida campaign, is a chairman of Farmers and Ranchers for Romney, and is also considered the most likely person to be named Agriculture secretary if Romney is elected.

Agriculture policy, Putnam said, should be a celebration of what it should be rather than of what it was, which appeared to be a reference to the Obama administration’s emphasis on local and organic production. The luncheon was organized by CropLife America and the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives and supported by many other groups that represent large-scale commercial agriculture.

“When you peel the onion” the Obama administration is “hostile to science,” Putnam said. “They are friendly to science only when it suits their policy.”

“The Obama administration,” Putnam added, “is not interested in a continuation of resource-based industries.” He said that it will do no good to help farmers in the drought while proposing a tax structure that is “not good for them.”

Alluding to a Labor Department proposal restricting child labor that the administration has dropped and promised not to bring up again, Putnam said officials should not to go a state fair and visit a 4-H exhibit if they are planning to put in place rules that would not allow a 9-year old girl to raise animals.

Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., who was the official representative of the Romney campaign at the lunch, also urged the audience to work hard for Romney because that will help Senate and House candidates.

There is a “war on the flyover states,” said Thune, who also noted that Romney and Ryan would take a different approach to the “needless, crazy regulations” that the Obama administration has imposed.

Sen. Mike Johanns, R-Neb., said it had taken months and years to convince the Obama administration to bring the Korea, Colombia and Panama trade agreements to the Senate floor, and that he would expect Romney to devote more attention to trade issues.

Senate Agriculture Committee ranking member Pat Roberts, R-Kan., who would become committee chairman if the Republicans won control of the Senate, and House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., both told the audience they are trying to get a new farm bill passed before the 2008 farm bill expires September 30, but noted that the House is scheduled to be in session only eight days in September.

Lucas said in an interview afterward that he is hoping House members will come back from the August recess and convince the House leadership to bring up the bill. He said Congress would finish the farm bill this year, but he does not know when.

“There will be a farm bill,” he said. “I am not sure which day, which month.”

Lucas added that his “Republican-principled farm bill” includes “reform and savings across the board,” including the food stamp program, while the Obama administration’s budget proposal had made cuts to the commodity title and crop insurance, but not to nutrition.

As the audience booed, Lucas said, “Boo is right. The farm bill should still be about farming.”

Some lobbyists have said they believe that some tea party-minded House members would prefer to put off the farm bill until 2013 in the hopes that a Romney-Ryan administration would make bigger cuts in farm and nutrition programs.

But National Council of Farmer Cooperatives President Chuck Conner, a former deputy Agriculture secretary who is a surrogate for Romney, said the Republican hopeful believes that Congress should finish the farm bill this year.

CropLife America President and CEO Jay Vroom, who moderated the lunch, noted that Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., had started the luncheon in 1992 at the convention in Houston, but that the weather prevented Cochran and Mississippi State University President Mark Keenum, a former Cochran aide who was supposed to give the invocation, from attending today.

“Some say government should get out of the way” of agriculture, Vroom said, but he added that the government “dug us out of the Dust Bowl,” and that farm bills have “shaped agricultural policy.”

One of the less likely attendees was Tom Buis of Growth Energy, the pro-ethanol group. Buis is a onetime aide to then-Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D, and a former president of the National Farmers Union.

“We’re partisan for ethanol,” said Buis, adding that he like many other attendees will also attend the Democratic convention next week in Charlotte.

(See following stories for details on Roberts and Lucas.)