Presidential Radio Address - 3 October 1998
Good morning. This week I announced that we've closed the book on nearly three decades of deficits. Today I want to talk about another challenge we must face to keep our economy and our Nation growing strong: protecting America's farmers and ranchers. For nearly 6 years now, strengthening our economy has been my top priority as President.Today, because of the hard work of the American people, these are good times for our country, with nearly 17 million new jobs, wages rising, the lowest unemployment in nearly 30 years, the lowest inflation in more than 30 years. But for the farmers and ranchers whose hard work has helped to build our new prosperity, times are not as good. In fact, America's farms are facing the worst crisis in more than a decade.
This year, flood and drought and crop disease have wiped out entire harvests. Plummeting prices here at home and collapsing markets in Asia have threatened the livelihood of entire communities. Many farmers will see their net income this year drop by as much as 40 percent below a 5-year average. Farm failures have become so common that in some parts of our country trained farm auctioneers have been brought out of retirement. Families who have farmed the same land for generations are giving up and moving to town.
We've already taken steps to help farmers and ranchers weather the crisis. In August I signed new legislation to speed up farm program payments. Next week we'll purchase another allotment of the $250 million of wheat we pledged to buy to feed hungry people around the world and help our farmers here at home. And I've directed Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman to do everything within his authority to help farmers who have suffered significant losses and to give them the resources they need now to plan next spring's crops. But with crop and livestock prices still dropping, with foreign markets still in danger of collapse, with family farms still in jeopardy, we know we must do more.
As we near the end of the legislative session and finish our work on the budget, we have a real opportunity to protect our farmers. The strict budget rules permit special measures for one-time emergencies. And make no mistake, for America's farm families this is a real emergency, as harmful as a hurricane, a flood, or a riot.
So this summer, I sent a proposal to Congress for emergency aid for our farmers, and I backed a proposal by Senators Harkin and Daschle to lift the cap on marketing loan rates for one year. Since then, we've strengthened our proposal to help hundreds of thousands of farmers while honoring the budget rules.
Congress is now considering a package which, though it adopts many of the protections we've proposed, still does not do enough for farmers who are suffering from the lowest prices in decades. I call on Congress not to leave town before they've sent me a comprehensive plan that protects farmers by strengthening the safety net at this very difficult time.
With Congress in town for just a few more days, we must take another critical step to help our farmers and ranchers who rely on exports to make a living and support their families. Farm products from one of every three acres planted in America are sold abroad. And when those markets stumble, our farmers take a fall, too.
Just this week the New York Times ran a story that described the tons of wheat, apples, and other farm goods piling up on our docks because Asian customers can no longer afford them. That is why we must give the International Monetary Fund the resources it needs to help our customers in Asia so that they can continue to buy our farm products.
Congress has had months and months to create a stronger IMF, better able to deal with the most serious financial challenge the world has faced in 50 years. Now, each day Congress delays on IMF, our farmers, our ranchers, our economy, our future suffer.
It's way past time for Congress to act on the IMF and do the right thing for our farmers. Our farming families are the lifeblood of our land or, as President Franklin Roosevelt once called them, ``the source from which the reservoirs of our Nation's strength are constantly renewed.
We cannot afford to let them fail. And with these steps, we will strengthen and support our farms and our farm families, just as they have sustained us throughout our history.
Thanks for listening.