Trump appears before approving AFBF meeting

Before a crowd estimated at more than 4,500 roaring its full-throated approval, President Donald Trump Jan. 8 extolled the virtues of rural America at the American Farm Bureau Federation annual meeting at Nashville, Tennessee.

“We know that our nation was founded by farmers,” Trump said. “Our independence was won by farmers. Our continent was tamed by farmers. So true. Our armies have been fed by farmers and made of farmers. And throughout our history, farmers have always, always, always led the way.”

Trump also offered some self-congratulations after he told AFBF members about his signing an executive order to repeal the Waters of the United States rule brought by the Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Its repeal had been a priority of AFBF members. Trump’s mention of that repeal delivered him one of several standing ovations.

“Oh, are you happy you voted for me. You are so lucky that I gave you that privilege,” Trump said in reaction. “The other choice wasn’t going to work out too well for the farmers, I hate to tell you—or the miners or anybody else.”

Trump spent some time in his address on the new tax law he signed shortly before Christmas, telling producers about the $5.5 trillion in tax cut that will be offset by $4 trillion in other revenue changes. He called them “the most significant tax cuts and reforms in American history,” adding that “most of those benefits going to working families, small businesses and who? The family farmer.”

Businesses across America have already started to raise wages, and more than 100 companies have already given bonuses and other benefits to hundreds of thousands of workers as a result of the cuts.

“You see it happening every day,” Trump said. “We have over a million workers that have already received a tax cut bonus, something that nobody even thought when we made the bill. Nobody thought of that.”

Trump also noted that every House and Senate Democrat voted against the tax cut bill. Democrats have said the cuts would increase the national debt.

“Republicans came together and delivered historic relief for our farmers and our middle class. And it wasn’t easy. And we cannot let anything happen to that,” Trump said. “And if the Democrats ever had the chance, the first thing they would do is get rid of it and raise up your taxes, sometimes by 40, 50, 60 percent higher than you’re paying right now. We can’t have that.”

Trump said U.S. businesses have moved from the highest tax rate in the developed world last year to one of the most competitive, from 35 percent to 21 percent.

“And on top of that, you have a lot of advantages,” Trump said. “Small- and mid-size businesses will receive massive tax cuts. So a lot of the folks in this room, they’ll be able to deduct 20 percent of their business income. All American businesses, including American farmers, will be able to deduct 100 percent of the cost of new equipment in the year you make the investment.  That is something that is tremendous.”

Trump then extolled what AFBF members have been pursuing for years—the end of the estate tax. Or at least for now, a doubling of the exemption of the estate tax to $11 million per person or $22 million per married couple until its expiration date—like all other individual tax rate cuts under the legislation—in 2024.

“From now on, most family farms and small-business owners will be spared—and you’re going to be spared, and it really is the word punishment of the deeply unfair estate tax, known as the death tax—so you can keep your farms in the family,” Trump said to a standing ovation. “Get up. That was a tough one to get. That was a tough one. Obviously, you love your families; otherwise, you wouldn’t be standing for that one. Not going to help you much; going to help them a lot.”

“And what’s been happening is, you know, you have a farm and it does well, but its value is more than the income really would justify. And what happens is families were forced to take these farms and sell them at a fire-sale price. And they go out and borrow too much money, and then they end up losing the farm. It’s not going to happen anymore, folks. It’s not going to happen. So I congratulate you. That was a tough one to get approved of all of them.”

It was the issues currently most pressing to producers that Trump soft-pedaled his rhetoric. While in previous speeches to other audiences, Trump has discussed killing the North American Free Trade Agreement. The AFBF audience heard a different message.

“To level the playing field for our great American exporters—our farmers and ranchers, as well as our manufacturers—we are reviewing all of our trade agreements to make sure they are fair and reciprocal—reciprocal, so important,” Trump said.

“On NAFTA, I am working very hard to get a better deal for our country and for our farmers and for our manufacturers. It’s under negotiation as we speak. But think of it: When Mexico is making all of that money, when Canada is making all of that money, it’s not the easiest negotiation. But we’re going to make it fair for you people again.”

Trump also made no mention of reform of immigrant farm labor programs, such as the H-2A program, another concern to many producers, although he had this short comment.

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“We are going to end chain migration. We are going to end the lottery system, and we are going to build the wall,” Trump said.

“Every American child deserves to grow up in a safe community and to live a life full of dignity, purpose and hope. That is the future we all seek and we will fiercely defend for all Americans.”

Trump also spoke about the upcoming farm bill, Trump introduced Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-KS, who had flown on Air Force One with the president from Washington to Nashville to hear the speech. There had been reports that Trump was wavering about supporting crop insurance in a new farm bill, a concept Roberts supports. The president’s speech showed otherwise in his recognition of Roberts.

“Thank you, Pat. Oh, does he love the farmers. Pat, does he love those farmers. Right, Pat? Stand up, Pat. Do you love the farmers, Pat? ‘Yes.’ He’ll come in—we’re talking about a different subject, he’ll say, ‘What about the farmers?’ That’s good. That’s why they love you,” Trump said.

“And I’m looking forward to working with Congress to pass the farm bill, on time, so that it delivers for all of you. And I support a bill that includes crop insurance, unless you don’t want me to,” Trump said to applause. “Thank you. I guess you like it. Right? Good, because if I heard no applause, I’d say, forget it, give it up. (Laughter.) Now I can’t do that. No, we’re working hard on the farm bill and I think it’s going to go well.” 

Larry Dreiling can be reached at 785-628-1117 or [email protected].