Exactly what needs to be changed, and why, and what the change would involve, usually is not specified, but that isn't stopping anybody from demanding it. Of course, things change all the time anyway, so if you say the times they are a-changing, you're bound to be right. The question is: What new directions are we taking?
Here are a few changes I would like to see that would benefit our industry and lead in the direction of a stronger economy and more prosperity for the American people:
1. Put food ahead of biofuel
One of the most deranged federal policies going right now is the biofuels program, which is diverting huge amounts of corn from food and feed into ethanol production and sending the price of corn skyward. The ethanol boom is in direct response to the federal system of mandates and subsidies for domestic production and a tariff on imported ethanol. Congress needs to acknowledge that it made a mistake in the energy bill when it extended the program for years to come. Congress should dial back the ethanol mandate and subsidies, and reduce or eliminate the tariff. That would be a change with immediate impact that would save consumers and taxpayers billions of dollars.
2. Rationalize immigration policy
The failure of President Bush's immigration reform proposal last year was a sad milestone in the history of the growth of this country. Congress chose to do nothing about the fact that millions of people are in the country without proper documentation, simply because jobs are available that not enough Americans are willing to take. The political climate, however, seems to be improving. Senators McCain, Clinton and Obama one of whom will surely be our next president are all in favor of fundamental reform. Stridently anti-immigrant candidates have not done well; for example, Congressman Tom Tancredo of Colorado based his campaign for the Republican nomination for president on hostility to immigration, but dropped out before the first vote was cast because he got no traction. After the elections, if not before, Congress should revisit this subject and enact humane, comprehensive, and reasonable reform.
3. Pass the trade promotion agreement with Colombia
The USA has negotiated several trade promotion agreements with other countries in recent years. In our own hemisphere, we have deals with Canada, Mexico, Chile and Peru that are helping build ties among the countries and provide markets for American goods. Under the existing Andean Trade Preference Act, our market is largely open to imports from Colombia. The Bush Administration has negotiated a deal to provide better balance and open Colombia's market more widely to American exports, but so far Congress has refused to approve it. Labor unions and activist groups are fiercely opposing the agreement. If the Democrats keep control of Congress this year and gain the White House, the era of free trade agreements could very well come to an end. Congress should ratify the Colombia agreement now. Pending agreements with Panama and South Korea also deserve prompt ratification.
4. Increase the supply of natural gas by opening more of the Gulf Of Mexico to exploration
A Grant Thornton survey of independent oil and gas exploration and service companies showed that top executives think the Gulf of Mexico is the most promising location for new oil and gas discoveries, yet much of the Gulf is still off-limits to exploration. If we are serious about energy independence, wouldn't it be a good idea to seek new sources right here in the USA? Agriculture in particular would benefit from more abundant natural gas.
5. Drill for oil off Alaska's coast
Similarly, offshore areas of Alaska hold great promise for finding more oil, to say nothing of small, onshore portions of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Both areas can be explored without disturbing the polar bears and the moose. We will never achieve energy security simply by phasing out incandescent light bulbs and raising automotive fuel-economy standards, as some in Washington seem to think. We actually need more energy. What a change it would be to have a policy that increases domestic supply as well as trying to limit demand.
Whether the next president is a Republican or a Democrat, and regardless of which party controls Congress, change will occur because Americans are restless people, never content with the status quo. The question is, What kind of change? All members of our industry should work now, and support their favorite candidates, to help make sure that whatever change occurs is in the interest of free enterprise and a strong economy.