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Vilsack to rural Democrats: Be proud of Obama's accomplishments

By JERRY HAGSTROM

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — In a preview of the speech he is scheduled to deliver to the Democratic National Convention at 7 p.m. EST, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told about 300 rural delegates and activists Tuesday that they can be proud of the accomplishments of the Obama administration in rural America and that a Romney-Ryan administration would gut both nutrition and farm programs.

“My main message is that rural Democrats can be proud of the accomplishments of this administration,” Vilsack said in an interview after the speech. “This is a positive message, it is a good message that can be taken out in the countryside.”

Vilsack also said that he did not have to ask for a speaking slot at the convention because campaign manager Jim Messina, a Montanan, called him and asked him to speak. “The effort was taking a phone call,” Vilsack said, adding that he noticed there was not a high profile rural speaker at the Republican convention.

Vilsack repeated to the rural delegates and activists many of the same points he has made to reporters and officials in Washington over the last four years: that the Obama administration has made investments in rural America through the farm program, conservation, bringing high-speed Internet service to rural America, increasing agricultural marketing opportunities everywhere from local and regional sales at farmers markets to large-scale foreign promotions that have brought U.S. farm exports to record levels.

He also noted that the administration has defended the Renewable Fuel Standard and helped biofuels and biobased products to create “the foundation for a new economy in rural America.”

Noting that Obama has called on Congress to pass the farm bill, Vilsack said, “What we are seeing is a delay on the Food, Farm and Jobs Act that is in part Republican attempt not just to reduce nutrition assistance but the farm programs and crop insurance.”

The secretary also noted that House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., now the Republican vice presidential nominee, has proposed “a $134 billion cut in nutrition assistance, which not only impacts the recipients but also farm income.”

Vilsack also pointed that the Obama administration has established the White House Rural Council and provided assistance to veterans in rural areas.

“I am proud of the record,” Vilsack said. Rural Democrats, he added, can go out and talk to their neighbors about record income and expansion of the food system.

“The president’s approach to getting the deficit under control understands the need for reductions, but recognizes you can’t just cut your way out of the deficit,” he added.

Vilsack said he did not address Republican criticisms of Environmental Protection Agency and Labor Department actions because the Republicans “keep talking about things that are not going to happen.”

“There is no dust rule, no spilled milk rule, no child labor rule,” he said. “Republicans know that, and it is unfortunate that we have to get into that kind of approach.”

“This is an important group,” Vilsack said of the Democratic delegates and activists. “They have something to really go out and sell.” He also said the activists should ask the Republicans to explain their “severe reductions” in farm programs.

Rural Democrats have a lot of work to do organizationally to get out the vote, he said, but noted that he is not focusing on that aspect of the campaign.

“I am just making sure the facts get out,” Vilsack said. “People will make up their minds.”