Radio and Television Address to the American People on the Farm Bill Veto
[Delivered from the broadcast room of the White House.]
My Fellow Citizens:
Tonight I want to talk mainly with the farm folks, with you men and women on the farms of America. But the subject of my talk is of vital concern to all of you--whether you live on a farm or ranch, in a small village or in a great city.
My subject involves our food and fiber supply--and the prosperity of the United States. It concerns the well-being of our farm families--the very foundation of a strong America. This is not--or certainly should not be--a partisan matter. I personally shall never treat it as such and I will always resist any attempt to make the farmer and his problems a political football.
As you know, today I found it necessary to return the farm bill to the Congress without my approval.
I took that action with a sense of deep disappointment.
Tonight I want to talk with you about my decision.
I know you are depending on me to tell you the truth as I see it--and the truth is: I had no choice. I could not sign this bill into law because it was a bad bill. In the months ahead, it would hurt more farmers than it would help. In the long run it would hurt all farmers.
It was a bad bill for the country. It was confusing--in some aspects self-defeating, and so awkward and clumsy as to make its administration difficult or impractical.
The failure to get a good farm law that we worked so hard for, hoped for and expected, leaves us with but two courses of action: First, we shall use the administrative tools we now have at our command to help farmers get more of the income they deserve on this year's crops. Second, we shall look to the Congress to enact the Soil Bank I asked for in January.
I'll have more to say on both these points just a little later in this talk.
At the moment, I want to go back a bit. You will remember that early in January, more than three months ago, I sent a Special Message to Congress recommending an expanded nine-point Farm Program, including a Soil Bank which would reduce surpluses and improve our basic resource--the soil. These farm measures were a vital part of a broad program which the Administration presented to the Congress for the health and growth of our entire economy.
The farmer had a real interest in the entire program, for his sales and prices depend, first of all, on the prosperity of all America. And likewise, the country's prosperity cannot be sustained without a healthy and prosperous agriculture.
I am happy that the Congress has already acted on several of my agricultural requests, such as the refund on the Federal gas tax, increased funds for the Special School Milk Program, and funds for the eradication of Brucellosis--a menace to the health of our people.
The Special Message I sent to the Congress was not thought up in a Washington office. It was developed with the indispensable help of farmers from the grass roots of America. It was your program. In it were the thoughts of farm men and women from all sections of our country. I urged speedy passage of the Soil Bank along with the other requested measures.
The reasons for the Message were simple:
First, farmers generally were not--and are not--getting a fair return for their work. Farm families, almost alone of our people, are not sharing as they should in the record prosperity of our nation.
Secondly, farm families deserve a better break because of heavy investments they have in land and equipment, the many risks they take, and the sweat they put into their jobs. Our farmers are the most efficient in the world. In no other country do so few people produce so much food to feed so many at such reasonable prices to consumers.
A third reason for the January Message to Congress was that our government owes the farmers help. Unwise and unbalanced price support legislation of the past many years has distorted production and markets, and piled up price-depressing surpluses. These surpluses are our main agricultural problem today. They have operated to cut farm income, first, by forcing severe reductions in acreage allotted to farmers for price-supported crops; second, in some cases, notably that of corn, the presence of huge government surpluses has served to drive down prices in the free market where many farmers still sell their crops; third, acreage reductions forced by these surpluses have resulted in increased production of other farm products on the diverted acres and so decreased the prices of these products and income to their producers. These great surpluses depressed the income of farm families by many hundreds of millions of dollars last year. That is shocking.
These thoughts were in my mind when on January 9 I sent a Special Farm Message to Congress which opened with these words: "In this session no problem before Congress demands more urgent attention."
The Soil Bank would have done two things to relieve the price-cost squeeze on farmers. First, it would have bolstered farm income. Second, it would have attacked the fundamental problem of surpluses--surpluses which are the primary cause of the farm troubles today--surpluses which last year kept hundreds of millions of dollars out of farmers' pockets.
In my judgment, no general farm legislation is meritorious unless it tackles this problem, forthrightly, head-on and effectively.
My request for farm legislation went to Congress more than three months ago. Scarcely a week went by that I did not urge more speed. On January 25, I said: "Here is a broad program and if the Congress will act on it promptly, it will give the farmers relief."
On February 29, I repeated: "This legislation is needed now."
On March 14, I pointed out: "The planting season is rushing upon US."
On March 21, I expressed hope Congress would act promptly.
On April 4, I urged immediate action if farmers were to get any relief this year.
Nature does not wait for the Government. You can't start farming by pushing buttons, and you cannot stop growing crops by throwing a switch. You must know before you climb on your planters what the government corn program is . . . you must know before you oil up your drill what the rules are on feed grains. It costs money to plow, to disk, to plant... you cannot afford to turn around and plow up a crop if the rules are changed on you in the middle of the season.
Last Wednesday, Congress passed a bill. I was happy that the Administration's Soil Bank was still in it.
But the disappointing thing was that other provisions of the bill would have rendered the Soil Bank almost useless. The fact is that we got a hodgepodge in which the bad provisions more than cancelled out the good.
Nevertheless, I studied every detail of this bill over many long hours. For I had said before final Congressional action that I would not insist on what I might call perfection, that I would be glad to sign any good workable farm bill.
I wanted to sign the bill if I possibly could. But I owed it to you who are farmers, to all citizens, and to my own conscience to ask myself these questions.
First: "Would this bill help solve the real problem--the surpluses which hang over the market and push down farm prices?"
The only honest answer to that question is: No. On the contrary, by going back to the wartime rigid price system, we would set in motion forces designed to produce more of certain crops at a time when we need less of them. It would also tend to shrink both foreign and domestic markets for some of these crops.
Thus we would encourage even more surpluses; more surpluses which we cannot use--more surpluses which build up faster than we can dispose of them--more surpluses which would further depress farm prices in the market.
Moreover, we can find much better farm uses for the million dollars a day that the storage on these surpluses is now costing the government.
My second question was: "Would this bill really help farmers?"
The answer to that is that it would temporarily help some farmers. But the inescapable conclusion is it would hurt many more farmers than it would help. And in the long run, it would hurt them all.
For example, it would threaten to destroy the whole parity concept in our farm legislation by establishing a double standard of measurement for price supports. Further this bill would hurt livestock farmers more than it would help them--although well over half of farm income is from livestock.
My third question: "Would it be in the farmers' interest for me to sign a bad bill to get the Soil Bank?"
The long delay in getting this bill makes it too late for most farmers to participate in the Soil Bank on this year's crops. In the South you're already planting cotton. In the southern Corn Belt you're already planting corn. Spring wheat is being seeded in the Dakotas. Even the supporters of this bill in Congress admitted in debate last week that it was too late for the Soil Bank to do much good this year.
However, if the Congress will speedily enact the Soil Bank, there is a way by which it can help farmers this year. I shall come back to this in a moment.
A further very important question I had to ask myself: "Is this a good bill for the country?" I firmly believe that if the bill is not good for farmers, then it cannot be good for all the other citizens of our country.
And any time our precious natural resources are squandered on crops that we cannot eat or sell--all Americans lose.
Well, these were a few of the questions I asked myself as I studied the farm bill. And when I had searched my mind and my conscience, I had no alternative. To protect the welfare of our farm families, as well as the good of the nation, I had to return the bill to the Congress without my approval.
But I was told, "What a risky thing in an election year to disapprove this bill!"
Ladies and gentlemen, I am no political expert. I have only one rule: Through study, analysis and consultation--and by measuring each proposal against basic principles--I try to find out what is the right, as I see it. You, the people, surely expect exactly that of me. And, as long as I hold the high office of President, I shall not do anything else.
I have one yardstick by which I test every major problem--and that yardstick is: Is it good for America?
So tonight I am reporting to you what I truly believe.
Now that Congress has failed, to date, to pass a good farm bill--what course is open to this Administration?
Let me make this perfectly plain. I do not propose to stand idly by and do nothing.
This Administration is resolved to do everything that is legal and sound, in using the tools at its command to help farmers-and help them now.
The failure of the Congress to enact a Soil Bank before planting time this year makes such administrative efforts imperative.
I have conferred with the Secretary of Agriculture and the Administration will act immediately on four major fronts:
In 1956, this year, price supports on five of the basic crops-wheat, corn, cotton, rice, peanuts--will be set at a level of at least 82½% of parity. Tobacco will be supported as voted in the referendums in accordance with existing law.
Within this range of price support flexibility, the Administration intends to set minimum support levels that will result in a national average of:
Wheat at $2.00 a bushel
Corn at $ 1.50 a bushel
Rice at $4.50 per hundred pounds
A separate support for corn not under acreage control in the commercial corn area will be announced at an early date. This will help strengthen prices for all corn and all feed grains.
Price supports on cotton and peanuts have not yet been officially announced but as I have just stated will be at least 82½% of parity. The Secretary of Agriculture will shortly announce the details of the new cotton export sales program.
For this year the support price of manufacturing milk will be increased to $3.25 per hundred pounds. The support price of butter fat will be increased to 58.6 cents a pound.
We will use Department of Agriculture funds where their expenditures will be constructive in strengthening the prices of perishable farm commodities. We will have well over $400 million for that purpose for the twelve months beginning July 1.
We have had such purchase programs in the past--beef in 1953 and pork in more recent months. These programs helped raise the price of cattle and hogs for the hard-hit livestock man. We have also used these programs for commodities such as fruits, potatoes and vegetables when they were in temporary distress.
These actions, the Administration will take immediately.
Now here is what we are asking Congress to do immediately:
Today, I asked Congress to pass a straight Soil Bank Bill as promptly as possible. Both Houses of Congress have shown they approve the Soil Bank. The Administration urges it--our farmers want it. So we have reason to hope for it quickly. We want to get it into operation before fall seeding for next year's crops. It is imperative that we get the Soil Bank authorized in this session of the Congress. The farmers of America have a right to demand and expect that.
I have one further proposal to make so that the Soil Bank can get into effective operation this year. By a simple provision in the Soil Bank Act, the Congress can authorize the government to begin making payments to a maximum of fifty percent promptly after the farmer signs a contract. Thus immediately after July 1, 1956, farmers who would agree to participate in either the acreage reserve or conservation reserve phases of the Soil Bank program will be eligible for payment.
These initial payments will help our farmers this crop year. Such payments will also enable them to contract for delivery of seeds and trees and for rental or purchases of implements for use at the appropriate planting time. Seed men and nurserymen would also, under this proposal, be able to insure delivery of needed supplies to farmers.
Final payments each year would be made to farmers upon such compliance.
If farmers generally should participate in the Soil Bank program, payments could add up to as much as an additional $500 million to them this crop year. And of course as the program succeeded in overcoming the surplus problem, the greater benefits would be found in the increased market prices for farm products.
We have already wasted valuable time. I shall urge the Congress to act speedily on this matter.
Also, I shall shortly request the Congress for increased authorization to continue our successful movement of farm surpluses into constructive uses overseas. This will further bolster domestic markets.
I also hope that Congress will act promptly to give us the farm credit legislation which we have already recommended. This strengthened program will help meet the credit needs of farmers--particularly young farmers and their wives. These young farmers, many of whom began farming upon their return from military service, do have special problems. Their operations began during a period of high prices for land, high prices for livestock, and high prices for implements. Many of them are confronted with a shortage of capital. We want to encourage them to stay on the farms of America. And America needs them on the farms. The Secretary of Agriculture and I are agreed that in the government's extension of credit to these young farmers, our main guide-line will be the character of the individual.
These administrative actions and legislative requests are sound for farmers. They will give farmers more income this year. They are in the best interests of all Americans.
We must move vigorously to safeguard the economic health of the farm families of America.
That makes sense.
My fellow Americans, I value the trust you have placed in me to do the right thing as I see it--honestly, frankly and regardless of political pressure. That is what I have tried to do. That is what I am trying to do. That is what I will continue to try to do.
Thank you for giving me the privilege of coming into your homes this evening.
Note: The President's special message to Congress of January 9, 1956, appears as Item 6 above, and his veto message, as Item 82.
Dwight D. Eisenhower, Radio and Television Address to the American People on the Farm Bill Veto Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/233090