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Merrigan: Pence is unreliable Trump adviser on farm bill

WASHINGTON -- Kathleen Merrigan, the first Agriculture deputy secretary in the Obama administration and now a surrogate for Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, pointed out that Mike Pence, Republican presidential candidate Donald T...

Kathleen Merrigan
Kathleen Merrigan

WASHINGTON - Kathleen Merrigan, the first Agriculture deputy secretary in the Obama administration and now a surrogate for Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, pointed out that Mike Pence, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump's running mate, voted against the 2008 farm bill 16 times. She said that means rural America cannot depend on him to be a reliable advocate for them in a Trump administration.

Trump has no record on farm bills, Merrigan said, but Pence does, and he would be expected to be Trump's "Washington insider."

Merrigan noted Pence said he was opposing the bill on final passage because he thinks "it is fiscally irresponsible and does not contain the kind of reforms in American agriculture that these times demand." Pence added, "This bill fails to reduce the overall amount of government subsidies to farmers, fails to encourage market-based reforms to the nation's agricultural policy, and fails to promote international trade."

At a Farm Foundation event on agriculture in the presidential campaigns at the National Press Club, Merrigan said, as a veteran of five farm bills, she had never met a member of Congress who liked everything in the bill, but rural senators and House members usually vote for it because there is something in the bill their constituents want and need.

Merrigan, now the director of sustainability for George Washington University, said her boss on Capitol Hill, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., doesn't have cotton or sugar beets in his state, but he votes for a bill that contains those programs. Leahy, she said, "understands that an omnibus farm bill is good for the nation."

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"Fiscal responsibility is one thing," Merrigan said, but representatives of rural America need to look out for their constituents.

Representing the rural

At the Republican convention, Republican lobbyists said they sometimes find Trump's style objectionable, but they consider Pence part of the rural culture.

Merrigan called on Sam Clovis, an Iowa college professor who co-chairs Trump's campaign and represented it, to go on the record about whether Trump supports keeping the nutrition title in the farm bill even though the Republican platform and some House members have called for the nutrition and farm programs to be separated.

"I don't think the farm bill moves without that package," Merrigan said. "We need Mr. Trump to be very clear, and his running mate - given his dismal record - to be very clear."

Clovis did not respond to Merrigan's comments about Pence's record, but said "the nutrition title has to be part of the farm bill."

Clovis said Trump's position "doesn't follow the Republican orthodoxy" and said that the orthodoxy "is unfortunately not always helpful." He noted that participation in the food stamp program - formally the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP - will decrease as the economy improves.

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