The number one industry in Central Illinois is agriculture. In fact, the state’s nearly 75,000 farms pour more than $6.4 billion into the Illinois economy, making it one of the largest industries in the state. As such, we cannot improve Illinois by leaving agriculture behind.
I have long been a proponent of completely repealing the Death Tax. This is why, during both the 111th and 112th Congresses I was a co-sponsor of , the Death Tax Repeal Permanency Act. This legislation would have completely done away with Death Tax. Not only does this tax provide for double taxation of already owned assets, but it brings less than 1% into the U.S. Treasury. Families often pay more in trying to avoid the Death Tax, than what the government actually collects.
I am happy to report that Free Trade Agreements with Panama, South Korea, and Colombia were finally signed into law so that Illinois farmers can compete in the global arena. As a member of the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Trade, I led several hearings on the importance of these three trade agreements. Peoria, Illinois is the 20th largest export market in the United States, and has seen a recent strong growth in exports. Over the last five years, Colombia has been the largest market for U.S. agriculture exports in South America, and the third largest market in the Western Hemisphere behind only Canada and Mexico, with U.S. exports totaling $4.3 billion. In 2009, U.S. agriculture exports to Colombia declined by 48%. It was the failure of the United States to implement the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement that was primary cause of the sharp decline in agriculture exports as Colombia enacted agreements with their South American neighbors as well as Canada and the European Union. According to the American Farm Bureau Federation, the full implementation of a U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement will result in a $700 billion increase in U.S. agriculture exports. The Farm Bureau estimates that corn and soybeans, both of which grow abundantly in the State of Illinois, will see some of the largest increases in exports. We must continue to allow the American economy to grow, including in emerging markets in Asia and Europe.
A U.S.-Panama Free Trade Agreement will allow more than half of current U.S. farm exports to Panama to become duty-free immediately, which would give U.S. farmers an advantage over competitors in the E.U. and Canada. The American Farm Bureau estimates that the increase in farm exports to Panama will exceed $195 million per year, nearly doubling U.S. exports. A U.S-Korea Free Trade Agreement will also allow for great agriculture export growth as well, with vegetable exports expected to increase between 53%-87%, processed food product exports expected to increase between 37%-42%, and vegetable oils expected to in increase between 20%-33%. The bottom line is that all indicators show that these Free Trade Agreements mean good news for Illinois farmers.
Additionally, ensuring that the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers have an updated lock and dam system is vital to making sure Illinois farmers can get their product to the global marketplace. Since I have arrived in Congress, I have made clear that this is a priority, and I will continue to fight for ensuring that our locks and dams are safe and fully functional. In the 112th Congress, I spearheaded a bi-partisan letter to the US Army Corps of Engineers regarding the importance of the Navigation and Ecosystem Sustainability Program (NESP). This program works to improve locks and dams along the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers.
Last Congress I also spearheaded a bi-partisan letter to the Army Corps regarding transportation on the Mississippi River. Because of the severe drought in 2012, low water levels threatened commerce along the Mississippi. This would have a detrimental impact on Illinois agriculture because farmers would lose a vital way to ship their commodities. My letter, which was co-signed by over 60 of my House colleagues, asked the Corps to continue with water releases that come from the Missouri River and flow into the Mississippi. Additionally, it asked the Corps to expedite rock pinnacle removal to ensure barge traffic could continue. I am pleased that the Corps agreed to speed up the rock pinnacle removal, and also release water into the Mississippi from other lakes in the area. This will be an ongoing issue that I will continue to monitor in 2013.
During last Congress, I was a strong advocate for a long-term and fully paid for transportation bill. As we work on a new bill in the 113th Congress, I will continue to push for long-term and fully paid for solution. Our transportation infrastructure is in dire need of improvement. Deficiencies in our transportation network increase transportation costs, which in turn drive up the cost of farmer’s products, and them less attractive on the world market. I led conversations with the House Speaker and Transportation Committee Chairman, and urged them to link new oil and gas leasing revenue with funding for a long-term Highway Bill. This would not only be good for America’s energy security, but it would mean that we can fund important transportation projects without adding to our national debt. Additionally, I authored a letter to President Obama, co-signed by 110 other Members of Congress, and asked for his support of a long-term Highway Bill. I am pleased that in the last Congress we passed a bill that included important reforms like consolidating 2/3 of federal highway programs. Additionally, the bill reduces project approval time. The bill also cuts project approval time in half. These reforms will cut down on costly overhead and streamline processes so that actual construction projects can occur more quickly.
Last Congress I introduced the Agricultural Machinery Illumination Safety Act, which would require federal standards for lighting and marking requirements for agricultural machinery. This will help ensure are farmers are safe when transporting their product from the fields. I am happy to report that this was included as part of the 2012 Highway Bill that was signed into law by the President.
I am supporter of the Renewable Fuels Standard II (RFS), which will help grow our domestic supply of fuels such as ethanol and biodiesel. The more American grown energy that we can produce, the better. This is not only good for Illinois farmers, but it is good for consumers, the environment, and our nation’s energy security. This means renewable fuels will be required to be blended into 36 billion gallons of transportation fuel by 2022.
During last Congress, I introduced bi-partisan biodiesel legislation, HR 2238, which would extend the current biodiesel tax credit for 3 years. I am pleased to report that portions of this legislation were signed into law as part of the “Fiscal Cliff” package. Biodiesel is a by-product of soybean oil that can easily be turned into a sustainable domestic energy source. As the economy continues to struggle, the extension of this important provision is seen as a positive development to assist the agriculture community. In 2004, when the incentive was initially enacted, the U.S. produced 25 million gallons. In 2009, that number rose to 545 million gallons. In 2009, the U.S. biodiesel industry supported 23,000 jobs in all sectors of the economy. This added $4.1 billion to the nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and generated $828 million in tax revenue for federal, state and local governments, according to National Biodiesel Board. Roughly 11 billion gallons of biofuels were produced and sold in the United States in 2009, according to the CBO.
It is also important that our country not only produces more American energy, but we must also have the infrastructure in place to distribute it. I am an advocate for finding ways to put more ethanol flex/blender in pumps in place at gas stations so that consumers have a real choice when they pull up at the pump.
My work on biofuels has not gone unnoticed. I was proud to be recognized with the 2011 and 2012 Fueling Growth Award , the highest honor presented to Members who support ethanol. I was also presented with the 2012 Illinois Soybean Association’s Award of Excellence for Advocacy/Market Access, and was selected as 1 of the 10 Most Important Advocates for Renewable Energy in Washington by BioFuels Digest.
During the 112th Congress, I was a strong advocate for a long-term Farm Bill I wrote House leadership and urged them to bring forward a bill before Congress adjourned. Additionally, I brought the Chairman of the Agriculture Committee, Frank Lucas, to my district so that he could the concerns of the agricultural community in Central Illinois. I was disappointed that a long-term bill was not completed, and I will continue to push the Farm Bill to the top of Congress’ agenda before the current extension expires at the end of September 2013. We must ensure we are providing a viable safety net to see farmers through the rough times. This safety net must recognize the risks and rewards unique to agriculture and preserves a farmer’s ability to respond to changes in commodity markets.
We must also work to grow current agricultural markets and work to gain access to new markets. To accomplish this goal, I support university-based and USDA-based agricultural research. Everyday researchers are making discoveries that bring new uses for our agricultural commodities, improve farmer’s bottom lines and decrease the costs of the products we buy.