In his yearly State of the Union address, President Barack Obama outlined actions he plans to take and others he wants Congress to move on in the year ahead. Many of his key initiatives are important to the larger agriculture community as well as the nation as a whole.
Highlights include action on the impending budget situation, entitlement reform, immigration, updating the tax code, energy, infrastructure, trade and climate change.
Obama touted that America is "finally poised to control our energy future" and is producing more oil at home than it has in the past 15 years. He used the statement to launch into another call for more action to combat climate change.
He said 12 of the hottest years on record have come in the last 15. "Heat waves, droughts, wildfires, floods -- all are now more frequent and more intense," he said. We can choose to believe that Superstorm Sandy, and the most severe drought in decades, and the worst wildfires some states have ever seen were all just a freak coincidence. Or we can choose to believe in the overwhelming judgment of science -- and act before it’s too late."
He claimed meaningful progress can be made on addressing climate change while still driving strong economic growth. He urged Congress to find a market-based solution to climate change similar to what Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.) and former Sen. Joe Lieberman (I., Vt.) proposed a few years ago.
National Farmers Union president Roger Johnson said the extreme weather events are hurting America's farmers' and ranchers' ability to provide the nation with food, feed, fiber and fuel. He welcomed the call for a market-based solution to climate change. "Given the right incentives, agriculture can play a significant role in combating climate change by being a part of the solution," Johnson said.
Obama warned though that if Congress won't act, he would by directing his cabinet to come up with executive actions to reduce pollution and "speed the transition to more sustainable sources of energy."
The renewable energy industry welcomed the call for cleaner energy and responded that the industry already has successfully reduced dependence on oil, created jobs and helped meet the goals of fighting climate change.
Obama also proposed a "Fix-It-First" program and also attract private capital to modernize ports, infrastructure and schools. Under this approach, the President calls for $50 billion in frontloaded infrastructure investment includes $40 billion that would be targeted to the most urgent upgrades, like the 70,000 structurally deficient bridges across the country. In addition, the President is continuing to call for a long-term increase in surface transportation and rail funding financed by reductions in spending due to ending the wars.
American Soybean Assn. president Danny Murphy, encouraged the president to remember that waterways infrastructure including locks and dams on the Mississippi, Ohio and Missouri Rivers are also in critical need of repairs, while the channel depth issues on the Mississippi River continue to threated the waterway's continued viability as a commercial route.
"These waterways serve as a vital artery for the movement of soybeans and other essential commodities, and investments in maintaining that infrastructure have immediate benefits in creating jobs and restoring market confidence, and the long-term benefits of maintaining and improving global economic competitiveness of soybeans and other major U.S. commodities and products," Murphy said.
Obama also said to boost American exports, support American jobs and level the playing field in the growing markets of Asia, the Administration intends to complete negotiations on a Trans-Pacific Partnership. He also announced plans to launch talks on a comprehensive Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership with the European Union.
"We hope that these talks will take into account the unique nature of agricultural trade and provide solutions to many of the barriers that soybeans and other American agricultural exports face in the European marketplace," Murphy said.