By Jack Brammer and Bill Estep – firstname.lastname@example.org
Republican U.S. Senate candidate Rand Paul tempered his opposition to federal farm subsidies Wednesday, saying he is “much more moderate” on the issue than he has been portrayed in the media.
Appearing on WHAS-AM radio in Louisville with host Mandy Connell, Paul did not repeat a previous blanket assertion against farm subsidies.
“The interesting thing is they start out with that being my position and I’m actually much more moderate than that. You know how moderate I am,” Paul said during the one-hour radio interview.
In a May 10 appearance on Kentucky Educational Television with other Republican primary candidates, Paul said he was not in favor of agricultural subsidies.
“I don’t think federal subsidies of agriculture are a good idea,” he said.
At the time, Paul said the subsidies often went to things that weren’t economical, citing ethanol subsidies, and also that aid often went to large corporate farms.
“I’m not in favor of giving welfare to business,” he said.
Paul’s Democratic opponent in this year’s race, Attorney General Jack Conway, has criticized Paul, especially in Western Kentucky, for opposing farm subsidies.
Paul, a Bowling Green eye surgeon making his first bid for public office, said on the Louisville radio show that the federal government first should stop providing subsidies to dead farmers.
He said a survey in Miami last year showed that 234 dead farmers in the area were receiving $9.1 million in subsidies.
“Let’s just agree that we will get rid of subsidies for dead farmers first,” he said.
After that, Paul said, the government should restrict subsidies to farmers who make more than $2 million a year.
Paul said 2,007 farmers whose income was greater than $2 million received subsidies last year.
“Let’s agree that maybe we can cut them out,” he said.
Paul noted that of the $13 billion in farm subsidies last year, $1 billion was spent to tell or pay people not to grow crops. “I don’t think that’s a good idea to pay people not to farm,” he said.
The United States has the greatest farm production in the world, Paul said.
“We are better at it than anywhere in the world. Instead of letting and paying our farms to go fallow, let’s grow more and export it,” he said. “Let’s become a great exporter like we used to be.”
Allison Haley, Conway’s press secretary, said Kentucky received at least $446 million from the Department of Agriculture last year “through programs that include helping our Kentucky farmers improve water quality, cope with environmental disasters and provide nutritional assistance for women and children.
“Paul’s willingness to yank these programs away from our farmers is another example of why Kentucky can’t afford Rand Paul,” she said.
In federal fiscal year 2009, Kentucky farmers got more than $265 million in commodities subsidies through the U.S. Department of Agriculture, according to a publication from the USDA Farm Service Agency.
The payments provided support when the effective price of a certain crop fell below the target price, for instance.
But most of that aid was in payments to ease the transition away from tobacco in Kentucky, money that comes from a fee on manufacturers and importers of tobacco products, the publication said.
The Kentucky Farm Bureau said Wednesday it has not endorsed a candidate in the U.S. Senate race but supports federal aid to farmers.
“Farm policy remains a high priority issue for Kentucky Farm Bureau and we proudly recognize agriculture as one of the most important industries supported in the Commonwealth,” it said in a statement. “Many Kentucky farmers benefit from farm bill programs and we will continue to follow our policy for maintaining an effective safety net which supports the farmers that produce the best and most affordable food, fiber and renewable energy on which our state, nation and world depends.”
Paul also was asked on the radio show what he thought of Lt. Gov. Daniel Mongiardo’s decision not to take a position in the race between Paul and Conway. Mongiardo lost to Conway by less than 1 percentage point in the May primary election.
Paul said Mongiardo’s comment show that “there are a lot of conservative Democrats in Kentucky, and I think they are going to have trouble struggling with the liberal policies of Conway and the liberal policies of President Obama.
“We plan on working very hard to reach out to the conservative Democrats and say, ‘You know what, Conway is a liberal,’” he said.
Paul also defended attending a recent private fund-raiser in Washington in which nine of the 12 lawmakers who hosted it had voted for the $700 billion bank bailout – a move Paul opposed.
Paul said his position has not changed on the bailout. He said he “still is on the outside but they are talking to me now and that is a good first step.”
He said his “message won, so those people are now endorsing my message. Interestingly, I think the Republican Party has become more conservative and more unified against more bailouts since they are out of power.”
Paul added that he thinks both political parties have not done well in handling the national debt.
“We doubled the debt and now Democrats are tripling it,” he said.
And Paul criticized the Obama administration for waiting until this week to allow foreign countries to help with the Gulf oil spill.
“President Obama has said no because he is protecting the unions,” Paul said.