Politics & Elections: Rubio’s Ties to Sugar Could Affect His Free-Market Stance

Bill Bishop takes a look at political issues affecting rural America: Now that the Iowa caucuses are over, will ag issues be part of the presidential race? More news on the threat to rural hospitals. A House bill would release funding for mine reclamation and economic development. Nebraska hog bill pits small farmers against mega-farms and corporations, statehouse correspondent says.

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Jerry Hagstrom wonders if agriculture had its “moment in the sun” during the Iowa campaign that ended this week, “or will issues such as ethanol, low commodity prices, genetically modified organisms, and the food movement come roaring back late in the year?”

Writing in the National Journal, Hagstrom notes that Texas Senator Ted Cruz managed to win the Republican side of the Iowa caucuses even though he was a strong critic of the renewable fuels standard (which helps corn prices) and was opposed by Iowa Governor Terry Branstad.

Hagstrom finds that the “most interesting outcome” in Iowa, for agriculture, at least, is the third-place finish of Marco Rubio among Republicans. Hagstrom writes:

“The most fascinating thing about Rubio is that, even though he maintains that he is a staunch free-market conservative, he has close relations with the Florida-based sugar-growing Fanjul fam­ily, fellow Cuban-Americans who helped launch his career. Rubio has voted against bills that would have curbed the sugar pro­gram, which the free-marketers hate most because it raises prices for candy companies and restricts imports. Rubio has taken the same position as the American Sugar Alliance, the co­alition of cane and beet growers — he would support ending the U.S. program if other countries end their sugar subsides and trade barriers.

“If Rubio wants to maintain the sugar program as president, then he would have to support the entire farm bill of which it is a part.”

Hagstrom notes that on the Democratic side, both candidates support ethanol standards, but that Sanders, despite coming from the nation’s most rural state, “does not have much of a reputation on agriculture.” Clinton, meanwhile, as a New York senator “established amazingly good relations with New York farmers and deftly helped them by getting provisions in the farm bill to help the dairy and fruit producers without ever opposing the programs that boost the big farmers she knew so well when she was first lady of Arkansas.”

Oh, and remember that Trump said on election night that he might buy a farm in Iowa.

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How about this for an issue to be discussed by our candidates: A study released this week finds that there are 673 rural hospitals that are “vulnerable for closure.”

Since 2010, more than 60 rural and Critical Access Hospitals have closed. A lot more are on the verge. Now, 210 hospitals are at a high risk of closing and 463 are at a lower risk, but still vulnerable.

In Kansas, one out of three rural hospitals is vulnerable.

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Kentucky Congressman Hal Rogers has proposed spending $1 billion on coal mine reclamation projects. Rogers is a Republican and chair of the House Appropriations Committee.

The money would come from a fund that accumulated from a fee paid by coal companies on each ton of coal mined, reports Bill Estep of the Lexington (Ky.) Herald-Leader. So it’s not “new” spending, but the release of money already collected to reclaim abandoned coal strip mines. There is $2.5 billion in the fund currently, according to Estep.

“This is an effort to get some jobs back,” Rogers said. “Instead of allowing those funds to go unused, now is the time to help our coal-producing states reinvest in the coalfields with projects that can create new jobs and reinvigorate our economy,” Rogers said.

The money would roll out to states and tribes over five years.

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L. Schmidt explains it as the “one of the biggest urban-rural disputes in the Nebraska Legislature” since the early 1980s. He’s referring to a bill that would allow meatpackers to own hogs.

Currently, Nebraska forbids meatpackers to own the hogs they slaughter and send to consumers. Meatpackers have to go to the open market and buy hogs from the farmers who raise them.

This bill would allow corporations to own the animals and simply hire farmers to raise them. It would turn the hog business into what now happens in poultry, where farmers raise fowl on contract with big meatpackers.

Some farm groups say passing the bill will end the family farm. Those on the other side say this is the only way to save the hog business in Nebraska, since it is the only state that still has an anti-corporate ownership law.

Schmidt says the crunch may come when the law is passed and the state is given the power to oversee the kinds of contracts the meatpackers sign with farmers.

 

 

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