President Clinton, seeking to shore up his standing in the politically vital Midwest, staked out a firm position Tuesday against Republican proposals to eliminate federal subsidies to farmers.
“I don’t believe we ought to destroy the farm support program if we want to keep the family farm,” Clinton said as he opened a conference on rural issues at Iowa State University.
The president, signaling for the first time his position on the 1995 farm bill, said he is willing to modify the program, which pays farmers an estimated $11 billion per year to protect them against sudden drops in crop prices.
“But our first rule should be: Do no harm,” he said, promising farmers that he will protect their interests.
Clinton already has suggested cutting farm spending by $1.5 billion over five years. But several leading Republicans, including Senate Agriculture Committee chairman Richard Lugar of Indiana, Budget Committee chairman Pete Domenici of New Mexico and House Majority Leader Dick Armey of Texas, have proposed much deeper spending cuts, including an end to the price support program.
Clinton’s defense of the price support system - which is also supported by some Republicans - reflects two factors: his philosophical fondness for government programs to promote economic activity, and the importance of the rural Midwest in next year’s presidential election.
Clinton’s visit to Iowa, which holds the campaign’s first test in its February caucus meetings, had an implicit but clear political purpose: to tell Midwesterners that their president is thinking of them.
“People need to be reminded that there is a Democratic alternative,” said Iowa Democratic Party chairman Mike Peterson.