Feb. 07--WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama heads to East Lansing today to sign a landmark piece of agricultural legislation, but don't be surprised if talk surrounding the event centers on more controversial subjects.
College Republicans at Michigan State University -- where Obama will sign the new farm bill -- are expected to rally outside the event, criticizing the president's Affordable Care Act. The Michigan chapter of Americans for Prosperity, a conservative group, plans much the same nearby.
-- Live blog 11 a.m.: Obama signs farm bill in East Lansing
Inside, Obama may take up the subject of immigration, especially since his White House has already asked the Michigan Farm Bureau for the names of growers who want to see action on that issue.
"They understand the issue. It impacts their farms. They hire seasonal workers every year to harvest their asparagus, their apples, their cherries," said Ryan Findlay, the Farm Bureau's national legislative counsel, who was asked to provide five names to the Obama administration this week.
The Free Press also learned Thursday that Obama is expected to meet new Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan for the first time since Duggan officially took over the helm of the city, which is going through the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history. The president will have lunch with Duggan and Don Graves, senior adviser at the President's National Economic Council, in the Lansing area, sources familiar with the meeting said.
The president's main event, set for 2 p.m. at the Mary Anne McPhail Equine Performance Center in East Lansing, is by invitation only. After seeing firsthand the work of agricultural researchers at Michigan State, the president is expected to deliver remarks about the importance of the farm bill, which he will sign. The U.S. Senate gave final passage to the bill this week.
Three years in the making, the farm bill represents some $500 billion in federal spending over five years, but it has pulled back on direct payments to growers and extended crop insurance to farmers who raise specialty crops, like many of those grown in Michigan. Bipartisan majorities ended up supporting the legislation in both the House and Senate.
U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow is the Democratic chairwoman of the Agriculture Committee and a Michigan State grad -- no small reason for why the signing is being held in East Lansing. It is Obama's first trip to Michigan since late 2012.
Michigan may be better known for its automakers than its agricultural products, but Findlay -- whose organization counts 48,000 farmers among its members -- said it makes sense to hold the event at Michigan State, a pioneer land-grant college that had agricultural research and studies among its chief missions.
"Second to California, we're the most diverse state from an agricultural perspective in the United States," said Findlay. "We have over 300 commodities that are grown here."
Outside the area, college Republicans were organizing to draw attention to policies of the Obama administration they believe are flawed. Among them: the Affordable Care Act, which this week came under more criticism from Republicans after a report released by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.
The report said the additional access to health care, premium tax breaks and subsidies will reduce the number of hours worked by the equivalent of 2 million full-time workers in 2017. The report noted that while total employment will increase, "that increase will be smaller than it would have been in the absence of the ACA."
"They're concerned about how this could affect their futures," state Republican Party Communications Director Darren Littell said about the MSU students. "They're concerned about how this could affect their careers."
Supporters of the ACA have said that by providing better access to health care and subsidizing premiums, people will no longer have to remain in jobs just to keep their insurance and that, with more Americans having insurance, uncompensated claims will not exert as much force on health care costs.
Contact Todd Spangler: 703-854-8947 or [email protected]. Lansing State Journal reporter Louise Knott Ahern contributed to this report.
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