Wellstone Wants to
'Raise the Roof'
Over Rural Issues

Sen. Paul Wellstone wants to organize a rural Americans' rally in Washington, D.C. this March to bring attention to the "convulsions in agriculture."

"We need to raise the roof," Wellstone told a gathering of about a dozen people during an Iowa campaign stop for Bill Bradley.

The Democrat from Minnesota hopes to use the energy from the protests at the WTO meetings in Seattle to push progressive economic issues in the nation's capitol.

"One hundred years ago the populists were rallying to civilize the national economy," Wellstone said. "That's what was happening in Seattle at an international level."

Wellstone used his Iowa appearances to criticize the Clinton Administration for laying back while farm markets went into the tank. Bradley, during an Iowa debate with Vice President Al Gore, asked if rural residents were better off today than they were seven years ago.

Wellstone picked up on the theme.

"Where have they been?" Wellstone asked. "Where has the vice president been? This administration hasn't done a thing to fight for farmers."

Gore criticized Bradley for not supporting ethanol subsidies, and for supporting the so-called Freedom to Farm program put up by ag state Republicans. Wellstone called Bradley's vote for "Freedom to Fail" a "big mistake."

Alan Hoefling, a farmer from Marcus in Northwest Iowa, told Wellstone that farm troubles from disastrous market prices are spreading to Main Street.

"Small businesses are getting crushed," Hoefling said.

Hog prices have been at record lows for two years. Cattle prices have recovered recently to a small-profit position. Corn and soybean growers were bailed out by an emergency farm payment this winter. Iowa farmers received about $600 million to keep them afloat for another year, or at least to ease their transition out.

Meanwhile, the Justice Department has done nothing to prevent further consolidation in the livestock or seed industries. The USDA's Packers and Stockyards Administration continues to study livestock concentration. However, it is USDA's official position that no industry dominates the markets to the point of monopoly.

Wellstone said that Bradley had a change of heart about farm policy after campaigning in Iowa and witnessing the economic implosion.

"I have never in my life been more angry than what I've seen happen to farmers," Wellstone said. "This is not Adam Smith's invisible hand at work. It's the result of a stacked deck."

Wellstone said he wants to organize a rally in Washington just before spring planting. "I'm looking for an outpouring of support from Rural America," Wellstone said.

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