President Obama signs farm bill Friday at Michigan State - New York News

President Obama signs farm bill Friday at Michigan State

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President Obama arrived in Lansing, Mich. on Friday afternoon. President Obama arrived in Lansing, Mich. on Friday afternoon.
Signing the bill Signing the bill

EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) -- President Barack Obama says signing the sweeping farm bill in Michigan makes sense because of its strong agricultural industry and few states better symbolize the nation's challenges during the past few years.
 
Obama told an audience at Michigan State University on Friday that the legislation boosts research at the East Lansing campus and other schools. Agriculture is Michigan's second largest industry behind manufacturing, which Obama says is "roaring again" after hard times and bankruptcies.
 
The president says the nearly $100 billion-a-year bill passed after years of wrangling largely because of Democratic Michigan U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, who spoke before him.
 
Before his speech, Obama said he ate lunch with Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan. He says Duggan wanted everyone to know that "Detroit is open for business" despite undergoing bankruptcy..

The bill expands federal crop insurance and ends direct government payments that go to farmers whether they produce anything or not. But the bulk of its $100 billion per year cost is for the food stamp program that aids 1 in 7 Americans.

Obama has said the farm bill isn't perfect but will reduce the deficit "without gutting the vital assistance programs millions of hardworking Americans count on to help put food on the table for their families."

The five-year bill cuts food stamps by $800 million a year, or around 1 percent. That is one-fifth of the cut approved last fall by the Republican-led House. Conservatives remain unhappy with the bill and its generous new subsidies for farmers in every region of the country, including Southern peanut growers, Midwest corn farmers and the Northeast maple syrup industry.

A partisan dispute over food stamp spending held up the legislation for two years, and last fall, lawmakers were warning of an impending spike in milk prices without a deal on the bill, which contains federal dairy supports. The prospect of compromise seemed bleak at the time, when lawmakers couldn't even pass a budget to keep the government running.

The first thing Obama did after a deal finally was reached to end the partial government shutdown was to call on Congress to pass the farm bill, along with a budget and an immigration overhaul. In four months, he's gone 2 for 3, with chances for achieving immigration legislation appearing increasingly iffy.

Obama promised in his State of the Union address last week to make 2014 a year of action, using his presidential powers besides pushing a Congress that usually is reluctant to go along with his ideas. In that spirit, he's coupling the signing of the farm bill with a new administration initiative to boost exports called "Made in Rural America."

According to a draft of the initiative, Obama will direct his administration to work on connecting rural businesses with federal resources that can help sell their products and services abroad. The steps he's directing agencies to take include hosting five regional forums for rural businesses, training Agriculture Department staff in all 50 states to advise on export opportunities and putting on a national conference to highlight successful projects.

The program's creation comes as U.S. farmers are sending record exports overseas, more than $140 billion in the past year, driven in large part by increasing demand from China. But administration officials say additional opportunities exist for farmers and other rural business owners.

Obama's trip is a reward for Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., who as chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee helped broker the hard-fought farm bill compromise after years of setbacks. Michigan State, a leading agricultural research school, is Stabenow's alma mater.

But while the bill was passed with bipartisan support, that spirit did not extend to the signing ceremony. Stabenow and other Democratic lawmakers traveled with Obama aboard Air Force One. Republican lawmakers turned down similar invitations, White House spokesman Jay Carney said.

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