Friday, November 08, 2013

President Obama Visits The Port Of New Orleans: Passing A New Farm Bill Is #1 Economic Priority

"Let’s do the right thing, pass a farm bill"...
While visiting the Port of New Orleans on Friday to deliver a speech on boosting the economy through exports and job creation, President Barack Obama jabbed foot-dragging lawmakers as he announced that he has moved passing a new Farm Bill to the #1 spot on his list of economic policy priorities.  

During his address to a crowd of about 650 Port workers and community members, the President was flanked by gigantic blue gantry cranes as he stood on a stage and called on both parties to work together to finally get the job done.

"In addition to working with Congress to grow our exports, I’ve put forward additional ideas where I believe Democrats and Republicans can join together to make progress right now," President Obama said.

"Number one, Congress needs to pass a farm bill that helps rural communities grow and protects vulnerable Americans." 

Lawmakers have battled for months over passing the new multi-billion dollar, five-year legislation that funds the Department of Agriculture's programs, including the nation's nutrition safety net, which each month offers benefits to more than 46.6 million Americans just with the Food Stamps program.  

Over the summer, the Congressional impasse included the US House splitting the nutrition title into separate legislation.  Subsidies for farmers, crop insurance, and conservation are also hot spots in the ongoing debate. 

"For decades, Congress found a way to compromise and pass farm bills without fuss," President Obama said.  

"For some reason, now Congress can't even get that done."

"This is not something that just benefits farmers," President Obama added. "Ports like this one depend on all the products coming down the Mississippi."  

"So let’s do the right thing, pass a farm bill."

Lawmakers from both chambers have recently been meeting in Conference Committee to hammer out Farm Bill components, but there is still no deal in hand.

The President got applause as he added that when a new Farm Bill is passed, "we can start selling more products."  

"That's more business for this port.  And that means more jobs right here," he said.

During his weekly address on Oct. 19, the President said passing a new Farm Bill was number three on his list of policy priorities, behind #1, "a balanced approach to a responsible budget," and #2, comprehensive immigration reform. 

But now the President has flipped the order:  Comprehensive immigration reform is now #2 on his list, he told the Port crowd, with passing "a responsible budget that sets America on a stronger course for the future" sitting at the #3 position.

The current legislation that funds the government expires on January 15, 2014.  Under the deal that re-opened the government following the 16-day shutdown, the 2008 Farm Bill was extended with programs and budgets intact "at current levels." 

Port of New Orleans is crucial to US agricultural exports...
President Obama toured the Port before his remarks, and during his speech he also pointed out the Port’s importance to US agricultural exports as he noted his Administration's efforts to eliminate bureaucratic red tape that impedes infrastructure improvements.

"In so many ways, this port is representative of what ports all around the country do: They help to keep our economy going — moving products, moving people, making sure that businesses are working," President Obama said.

"You've got corn and wheat that’s coming down from my home state of Illinois down the river, ending up here, and then going all around the world.  And it’s part of the reason why we’ve been able to increase exports so rapidly, is because we’ve got some of the best natural resources and waterways and facilities in the world."

"If there’s one thing that members of Congress from both parties want, it’s smart infrastructure projects that create good jobs in their districts,” President Obama  continued.

"That’s why, last year, I took the step without Congress to speed up the permitting process for big infrastructure projects like upgrading our ports.  Just cut through the red tape.  Get it done faster."

Since 2009, exports moving through the New Orleans region have increased by 140%, the White House said, "including a 20% increase this year alone."  Total US exports have grown by more than 50% since President Obama took office, according to the White House.

President Obama also told the crowd that during his tour he learned that the Port handles a lot of the nation’s coffee. 

"Which means you’re responsible for keeping the White House awake at all times," he said, to laughter.

At the end of his speech, the President veered into a defense of Obamacare, saying no one has been more frustrated or "unhappy" than he has been by the bug-filled, glitchy website, which has prevented people from enrolling.

"I wanted to go in and fix it myself, but I don't write code," President Obama said.

During his Port tour and speech, President Obama was accompanied by Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal (R),  Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx; Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-LA); Gary LaGrange, President and CEO of the Port of New Orleans; Keith Palmisano, General Manager, Ports America; Chris Hammond, longshoreman; and New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, as well as by White House aides.  (Above, touring the port)

Pool spotted Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY) in the crowd; the President mentioned during his remarks that members of the Congressional Black Caucus had been invited to New Orleans.

Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) flew to Louisiana with the President aboard Air Force One, but departed for her own business after the arrival in New Orleans. 

The President left the Port in the afternoon, heading aboard Air Force One for Miami, Florida for three Democratic fundraisers in the evening.  He was scheduled to spend the night in Miami before returning to Washington, DC late on Saturday.

*Photos by Pete Souza/White House.  White House video.