Bill Clinton photo

Remarks at the National Rural Conference Opening Session in Ames, Iowa

April 25, 1995

Thank you very much, Mr. Vice President. And thank you, ladies and gentlemen for that warm welcome.

The Vice President could have been—you know, that blue-ribbon remark at the Iowa Fair, he could have stuck it in a little more. He could have said that he still lives on his farm and I haven't lived on a farm in 40 years. As a matter of fact, I lived on a farm so long ago we had sheep and cattle at the same place. [Laughter] I got off because—that's true—and I got off because one of the rams nearly killed me one day, and because I didn't want to work that hard anymore. But I am delighted to be here.

I want to thank all of the people here at Iowa State who have done such a wonderful job to make us feel welcome and all the work they have done on this. I thank Congressman Durbin, who is here from Illinois, one of our conference's chief sponsors, and also a man who is not here, Senator Byron Dorgan from North Dakota, who was an originator of this conference.

I want to say I'm looking forward to working with Governor Branstad and his colleague from Nebraska, Governor Ben Nelson, as we work up to the farm bill, because they are head of the Governors' Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development. And we're looking forward to that.

I don't want to give a long talk. I came here to hear from you today. I will say, you've been given some materials for this conference. If you want to know what our record is in agriculture, you can read it. We wrote it up for you, but I don't think I ought to waste any of your time on it today.

I want us to think about the present and the future. And I want to make just a couple of brief remarks. There are a lot of paradoxes in the American economy, and they are clearly evident in rural America today. We have in the last 2 years over 6 million new jobs, the lowest combined rates of unemployment and inflation in 25 years. In Iowa, the unemployment rate is about 3.3 percent, I think, which the economists say is statistically zero. And yet—I just got the report this morning—in the last 3 months, compensation for working people in America, all across America, increased at a lower rate than it has in any 3-month period in 15 years, totally against all common sense.

The good news is we have low inflation. The bad news is nobody's getting any more money for working. And it is more pronounced in the rural areas of America, where incomes have stagnated.

Now, we know something about the dividing lines of this. We know that education is a big dividing line. We know that people who have at least 2 years of education after high school tend to do well in this global economy wherever they live and people who don't tend to have more trouble. We know also, unfortunately, that rural areas are not doing as well as urban areas. But we know that, in a way, technology gives us a way out of this because there are a lot of things that rural areas have that urban areas would like to have, affordable housing, clean air, lower crime rates. And we know that technology permits us, if we are wise enough, to bring economic opportunity to places where it hasn't been before.

So what I want us to focus on today is, yes, agriculture specifically and the farm bill, but beyond that, what about rural America? What is our strategy to make rural America stronger economically, to reward the good values that reside there, to help to make it an important part of America's life in the 21st century, to help to make it a place where people will want to come back to and provide some balance in this country that we so desperately need?

I'd just like to mention just three examples, if I might, one in agriculture specifically. When this farm bill comes up, there's going to be a lot of people saying, "Well, we ought to just get rid of the whole program or cut it way, way back because we've got a deficit." Well, we do have a deficit, but I would remind you that the farm bill was—the subsidies programs were cut in '85. They were cut in '90. We had a modest reduction in '93. We finally—we worked for years and years and our administration worked for nearly 2 years to bring the Europeans to the table in the GATT agreement, to cut the subsidies in Europe. And finally we're on an even footing, and I don't believe that we ought to destroy the farm support program if we want to keep the family farm and give up the competitive advantage we won at the bargaining table in GATT.

We have a $20 billion surplus in agricultural trade. We've got a big trade deficit in everything else. I don't think we ought to give it up. Should we modify it? Can we improve it? I'm sure we can. Should we emphasize other things? Of course we should, but our first rule should be: Do no harm.

The second point I want to make is, I don't think we have done enough in some areas that relate to both agriculture and generally to rural development, especially in research. And Senator Harkin and Governor Branstad were talking to the Vice President and me before we came out here about the pork research project that was funded here at this school last year, that was targeted for deletion in the House's socalled rescission bill. The rescission bill is a bill designed to cut some spending so we can pay for what we have to pay for, for the California earthquake and to cut the deficit more. But we need to know what we should cut and what we shouldn't.

We need more agricultural research, not less. If you want to—for example, I know it's a big controversy here in Iowa, and I don't pretend to know what the answer is, but I know this: I know if you want to have the kind of position you've got in pork production, if you want to keep having $3 billion a year income in hogs, you've got to find a way to preserve the environment. And if you want family farmers to be able to do it, you have to figure out a way to work the economics out. Laws will never replace economics. And therefore we should not back up on research. We should intensify research. As we give more responsibilities back to State and local governments, more responsibilities back to the private sector, the National Government still has a commitment, it seems to me, and an obligation to support adequate research.

The third thing I would like to say is, it seems to me that we need a much more serious national effort to focus on what our responsibilities are in the area of rural development in general. I have spent nearly 10 years seriously working on this issue. A long time before I ever thought about running for President, I was worried about the broader issues of rural development. I headed a commission called the Lower Mississippi Delta Rural Development Commission several years ago. And I have worked on this for a long time. I am convinced there are things we can do nationally that don't cost a lot of money that can help to support a real revolution in the economic opportunities and the social stability of rural America.

So I hope if you have ideas on that, you will bring them out, because even in Iowa, only one in five rural residents lives on a farm. We have to think about everyone else. And we'll have more people living on a farm and being able to sustain living on a farm if there is a more balanced economic environment throughout rural America.

So these are the things that we're interested in. I'm looking forward to this very much. I'd like to ask the president of this fine institution to come up and offer a few words, and then I would invite Governor Branstad and Senator Harkin up here. And then I'd like for our Secretary of Agriculture, Dan Glickman, to tell you about the hearings, the town hall meetings he had leading up to this conference, and then we'll get right into the first panel.

Thank you very much.

NOTE: The President spoke at 9:13 a.m. in the Great Hall of the Memorial Union at Iowa State University. In his remarks, he referred to Gov. Terry E. Branstad of Iowa and Martin C. Jischke, president of the university.

William J. Clinton, Remarks at the National Rural Conference Opening Session in Ames, Iowa Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

Filed Under




Simple Search of Our Archives