John Block: Priorities

By former USDA Secretary John R. Block

The TV has been dominated by hurricanes. The Texas coast was devastated and next, Hurricane Irma hit Florida. Powerful winds destroyed half of the crops. Orange juice is going to cost $2 per gallon more. We should not underestimate the destruction and cost to families, government, or the time to recover.

Why is the news wasting so much of our time debating the football players’ refusal to stand and respect the flag? That’s their problem.

It is time to turn to big issues that can impact the whole country. The Trump Administration is in the process of trying to repeal Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS). Last week, I talked about John Duarte, who was forced to pay a huge fine after he plowed his field and planted wheat without a permit. Regulation overreach of farm and ranch private property must be stopped.

We are in the third round of rewriting the North American Free Trade Agreement with Mexico and Canada. Yes – that agreement is old and needs to be updated, but it has been good for the ag industry. I agree we should fix the agreement so our overall trade deficits can be cut back, but “do no harm.” I know Secretary Perdue understands the risk we face.

In my judgment, the most important legislative challenge on the table now is tax reform. Both parties say that it needs to be done. Cut taxes – everyone is cheering – until a decision is made on how to raise revenue to help make up for the tax cut. Some of the loopholes and special tax breaks need to be taken away.

This can be done. President Kennedy and President Reagan both pushed through major tax reform packages. There is bipartisan support for cutting the corporate tax rate to as low as 15% or 20%. Then, maybe our corporations will stop moving to other countries for lower tax rates. Between 2000 and 2016, the number of Fortune 500 companies headquartered in the U.S. declined by 25%. Capital and jobs were lost. Can our Congress and the President find some middle ground and give us tax reform? Let’s hope.

I was on the farm in Illinois last week. Crops are good. Hogs are happy. The demand for bacon is off the chart. I can’t help but feel for farmers and ranchers that have suffered from hurricanes, forest fires, and drought. Our prayers are with you.

John Block was Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture from 1981-1985, where he played a key role in the development of the 1985 Farm Bill. If you would like to review his radio shows going back more than 20 years, visit

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