THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
|For Immediate Release
|September 15, 1998
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT
TO NATIONAL FARMERS UNION
Old Executive Office Building
1:00 P.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. Ladies andgentlemen, good afternoon; welcome to the White House. Lee, thankyou for the award. Thank you for your comments. Thank you for yourstrength. Thank you for your leadership for our farmers. I've knownhim for years -- I don't think I've ever focused on what a goodspeaker he was before. (Laughter.) He could have been a politicianor a preacher in addition to a farmer. It was great.
I want to thank Secretary Glickman for his trulyoutstanding work, along with Rich Rominger, Carl Whillock and theothers here from the Department of Agriculture, who really try to beyour advocates every day. whillock
We have at least NFU members who work at USDA -- MikeDunn, Larry Mitchell, and John Stencil. And I thank them inparticular. I want to thank Senator Dorgan and Congressman Pomeroyfor coming and for being your vociferous advocates. I talked toSenator Harkin right before I came over here today and he has alsobeen your great friend, along with Senator Conrad and Senator Daschleand Congressman Boswell from Iowa, who couldn't come this morning,but all these people have been up here working hard for you. And Iwanted you to know that.
I also would like to say that the National Farmers Unionhas done a lot of good for this administration and for our effortshere in Washington, from helping to keep our food supply safe toworking to expand health care to giving us the first balanced budgetin 29 years in just a couple of weeks now. You have been with meevery step of the way, and I am very grateful for that.
When I was a boy growing up in Arkansas I knew a lotabout agriculture, but I didn't know much about the intersection ofagriculture and politics. When I became a governor and served for adozen years, many of them very, very hard years in the 1980s on thefarm in my state, I came to appreciate what it was like when thenational government had good policy, what it was like when it had badpolicy, and what it was like when it had no policy.
I remember there were a couple of years when I was doingeverything I could to be creative, and I think when you were head ofthe South Dakota Farmers Union, the state of South Dakota actuallycame to me and the governor then and asked me for a copy of thebanking laws that I had changed in Arkansas -- because I changed ourstate banking laws to try to help the bankers keep more farmers onthe farm. And when we had that terrible situation, when the price ofland collapsed, all the collateral on the loans was no good, therewas no way for people to finance their farms and they were losingthem, and we were able to give some help to our farmers then. Butthrough the whole thing I always felt so helpless that there wasn'tan appropriate national response.
Now I feel especially bad for the farmers because it'sbeen such a good time for the rest of the country. We've got nearly17 million new jobs now and the lowest unemployment rate in 28 years,and the lowest inflation in 32 years, the highest home ownership inhistory, the lowest crime rate in 25 years, the smallest percentageof our people on welfare in 29 years. To somebody living in a city,to tell them that we have a farm crisis more extensive than we've hadin decades, it's very hard for them to believe and understand.
You may note that in the local people today I wascriticized for supporting a farm relief initiative in Congress. AndSecretary Glickman said, don't be upset, this is good news becausethey have noticed that the farmers are out there. (Laughter andapplause.)
Yesterday I had a chance to go to New York and speakwith some of the leaders in the United States in internationalfinance, from our nation's point of view, to talk to them about whatI think we need to do to try to keep the global economy from furtherdestabilizing, to try to help some of these countries help themselvesthat are in terrible trouble, to try to keep the global financialcrisis from spreading to other countries, and to try to build anadequate trade and financial system for the 21st century that willbenefit all Americans.
One, but -- not the only -- but one element of the farmcrisis is that the farmers have felt first the crisis going on in therest of the world. Because with roughly a quarter of the world'speople in recession with declining economic growth, representingroughly a third of the world's economy, our agricultural, whichdepends so much on exports, have felt that quicker than the rest ofthe economy. But it's an important thing for Americans to be awareof what's going on on the farm today, and to be aware that since thefarmers, in effect, are the foot soldiers in the front lines ofAmerica's march into the global economy of the 21st century, if wedon't do something to help our farmers, eventually all otherAmericans will feel it as well. (Applause.)
And so I am delighted that you're here, and I thank youfor coming. Let me also, once again, say I thank you for makingavailable the opportunity for all of these young people to be here.I want them to see their country in action. I want them to learn --much earlier than I ever did -- the relationship between the workthat's done every day on the farm and the work that's done up here.I think it's very important. It will make them more effectivecitizens and more effective in farming in the years ahead.
Now, what's really going on here? I wanted to give thisspeech today -- I realize to some extent I'm preaching to the savedtoday. (Laughter.) But what I hope will happen by your coming hereand by this event unfolding is that, maybe, finally, we will breakthrough the national consciousness and the consciousness of theCongress -- and our friends in the press corps -- not to panic, notto think that America's not doing well, but to say that at a timewhen our country is doing well, surely at a time when the rest of usare doing well, we can be more attentive to the genuine needs and theconditions on the farm in America. (Applause.)
Events in the past year have strained many family farmsto the breaking point. You know what they are: flood, drought, cropdisease have wiped out entire harvests. Plummeting prices at home,collapsing markets in Asia -- where our exports are down 30 percentin one year because of the economic crisis in Asia -- these havethreatened the livelihood of entire communities.
Many farmers this year will see their net incomes dropby more than 40 percent below what they've earned on average for thelast five years. And, of course, in some places like North Dakota,the drop is much, much steeper. If we don't do something and do itnow -- I want America to hear this, this is not a false alarm -- ifwe don't do something, and do it now, we could literally losethousands and thousands of family farmers this year. (Applause.)
I want to come back to this and why it's not just aboutwho's competitive in the market. The results are plain to see andpainful to watch. Foreclosures and farm auctions are the order ofthe day already in many communities. I met a farmer named DebLungren not long ago who told me that in 1957 her grandfather made$11,000 on their family farm. And in 1997, she made $10,000 on thesame land. The banks are ready to foreclose on the Lungren home.They don't see how they can possibly make it another year. I'll beteverybody here could tell me somewhere between one and a dozenstories just like that.
Now, again I say, I think every American has got a stakein rural America. Our farms feed the world and us at very low realcosts, at very high quality. They also feed our sense of ourselves.They reinforce our values of hard work and faith and family anddevotion to community and the land.
When I signed that Farm Bill, as Secretary Glickmansaid, in 1996, at a time when crop prices were strong -- and I wouldremind you the alternative was far worse; we would have been in evenworse shape if I had vetoed it and we'd gone back to that decades-oldlaw -- I tried to make it clear that sooner or later we would have todo more to provide a safety net for hard times; that all the goodthings in that Farm Bill could not possibly wipe away the fact thatif we have a family farm structure in America with widely varyingprices because of market developments around the world, and theinevitable march of nature and disease, that sooner or later therewould come a time when we see that if you really wanted a strongmarket, you had to do more for the family farmers. Well, that timehas arrived.
I want to thank Secretary Glickman for all that he'sdone. And in July, we announced that 80 million bushels of wheat,worth a quarter of billion dollars, would be purchased to help hungrypeople around the world and to help our farmers here at home. Istrongly supported Senator Dorgan and Senator Conrad's proposal toprovide farmers with emergency assistance. Last month I signed intolaw new legislation to speed up farm program payments to help farmerswho need the money now. And Secretary Glickman is doing everythingelse he possibly can to help.
I know him well enough to know that from his years inCongress representing Kansas, and his years as Secretary ofAgriculture, if there is one, single thing buried in the laws andregulations of the Department of Agriculture that he can do that hehas not yet done to try to help farm income, he will find it and doit. But with crop and livestock prices still in danger of dropping,with foreign markets still in danger of collapse, and with thousandsof farms in jeopardy, we simply have to do more.
The first and most important thing to do is to help thefarmers in greatest need -- those who have suffered significantlosses of crop and livestock. I'll continue to press Congress toenact emergency assistance to do that; critical assistance to helpthousands of farmers in keeping with the traditional budget rulesthat recognize the necessity of providing citizens help in times ofcrisis. We pass emergency bills for floods, for earthquakes, and weought to do it for farm failure. (Applause.)
The next thing I think we ought to do -- indeed we haveto do -- is to do what we talked about back in 1996. We've got toreinforce the safety net for farmers and ranchers. That's why lastThursday I announced my support for Senator Harkin and Daschle'sproposal to lift the cap on marketing loan rates for a year.(Applause.)
Yesterday our proposal was defeated in the United StatesSenate. Today it apparently is going to be voted on in its discreteelements. Whatever happens, we must find some way to provideemergency assistance to farmers facing dire circumstances so theyhave the resources now to plan for next year's crops.
And finally, let me say, we have to revive the ruraleconomy through exports. The speech that I gave in New Yorkyesterday outlining steps we need to take to try to limit and thenresolve the global financial crisis, and then plan a better financialand trade system for the 21st century over the long-term, will havemore immediate impact on farmers if we can implement all these stepsthan any other group in America.
Farm products from one of every three acres is soldabroad. We must continue to open new markets. We must continue toenforce our existing trade agreements. And we must give theInternational Monetary Fund the resources it needs to strengthen andreform the economies of our customers in Asia, and to try to protectthe contagion from spreading to our friends in Latin America, so thatothers can continue to buy all of our goods and services, andespecially our farm products.
For nine months now, since I called on Congress to dothis in the State of the Union, there has been no action. The Senatehas passed the funding for the International Monetary Fund, but withjust a few weeks left the House has still not acted. Our farmers andranchers have a bigger stake in the short-run in the passage of thisthan any other group in America. So I ask you to support that aswell, and tell the Congress we have to do it and do it now.
Now, these are the steps that I think we have to take.I'd just like to take one step back before I close and say that therehas been a debate in America for decades that underlies theskepticism of those who don't support what I propose; who say, well,farmers ought to be subject to the market like everybody else -- aguy running a dry cleaner, nobody brings the clothes into be cleaned,he goes out of business. The people who basically believe that -- inthe face of all the evidence that we have the most productiveagriculture in the world -- don't understand the intersection betweenglobal impacts on farm prices, the financing challenges that familyfarmers, as opposed to big corporate farmers, face, and what canhappen to you just by getting up in the morning if it happens to be abad day. (Applause.)
I know a lot of you feel like Job -- you know? Test myfaith, Lord; I didn't mean it that seriously. (Laughter.) But wehave an opportunity here -- we have an opportunity to break through akind of euphoria that's out there about the condition of our economyand let people know what's going on on the farm. We have anopportunity to tie the global financial crisis to what's going on onthe farm. We have an opportunity to convince congressmen who comefrom suburban and urban areas that the welfare, the health, thestrength of their citizens' -- their citizens' -- economy rests inlifting the whole American economy and doing the right thing beyondour borders. And they can see it in your stories, in your lives, inyour experience -- nothing more fully embodying the best of Americathan you do.
So let me say -- I don't know how else to say this:There is suffering on the farm. There is agony on the farm. This isa horrible affront to everything we have worked so hard to achieve tolift the economy for all Americans. And we cannot afford to walkaway from this session of Congress -- I don't care if there is anelection; I don't care what else is happening -- we can't afford towalk away until we do something to stave off the failure of thousandsof productive family farms in America. We cannot do it. (Applause.)
Now, let me leave you with one beautiful quote.Franklin Roosevelt once said that American farmers -- and I quote --"are the source from which the reservoirs of our nation's strengthare constantly renewed." For six years I have worked to renewAmerica. We're a lot better off in virtually every way than we weresix years ago. But we cannot walk across that bridge into the 21stcentury -- we cannot truly renew our country if we leave our familyfarmers behind.
So let's go up to the Hill and tell everybody that weall want to saddle up and go together. Thank you and God bless you.(Applause.)