Jim Webb sees no reason to fracture the Farm Bill into two parts to separate farm and food nutrition programs.
The former U.S. senator from Virginia recently became the fourth presidential candidate to participate in the RFD-TV News’ Rural Town Hall series. Webb, who is seeking the Democratic nomination, is a longshot candidate who would bring a more conservative voice to the Democratic Party, political pundits have said.
“In general, I really don't see the need for it,” Webb said about a recent conservative push to split the 2014 Farm Bill. “The only upside, particularly for the agricultural community, I think, would be for people in the country to understand what percentage of that bill actually goes for other programs.”
But Webb said heightening public awareness about the farm bill could be accomplished without splitting it.
“It's so hard to get a bill through the United States Senate that we don't need two when we can do it in one, quite frankly," he said.
The Vietnam veteran and former Secretary of the Navy under President Ronald Reagan fielded questions solicited from key agricultural organizations, publications and viewers during the town hall-style format.
Turning to other ag-related issues, Webb said he was comfortable with the science behind genetically modified organisms and does not support the need for state-by-state labeling, calling it impractical and unnecessary.
Webb outlined strategies he would administer to encourage more young people to enter the agriculture sector.
“We need to respect farming traditions,” he said. “We need to get incentive programs for our younger people to learn skill sets that match modern farming and we need to protect the traditions and history of farming.”
Produced in conjunction with Mediacom Connections Channel, Rural Town Hall is a series of one-hour specials focused on rural American issues in advance of the 2016 presidential election. The program will air in 50 million homes on RFD-TV, according to a news release.
Webb, who voted for the Renewable Fuel Standard when he was in office, said he would continue to support an all-inclusive approach to renewable energy. Having multiple sources of energy is the only way for the U.S. to main its independence, he said.
“I think the movement toward renewables is a healthy thing for the country. As an engineer, I believe in finding technological solutions to problems,” Webb said. “Even on the coal side, I'm a strong believer that you can reduce a lot of the energy systems.”
Knowing some of the brightest minds in the Naval Academy went into the nuclear power program, Webb said, he was comfortable with the safety of nuclear power.
“It’s clean environmentally, so we need to get a strong approach to all of them in order to maintain our independence, strategically and economically,” Webb said.
Webb also offered his thoughts on improving Internet service in rural communities
“One of the first things that I did was to put in what we call an earmark, to make sure that we got broadband out into areas like the far southwest of Virginia and over on the tidewater areas that otherwise would not be able to compete,” Webb said of his time as a U.S. senator. “We have to start looking at Internet the same way we look at telephone services. It's become an essential part of how we do so many things in our lives."
Fielding a question about the Social Security system, Webb related it to his family experience with aging.
“Whenever I look at that program, I think of my grandfather in East Arkansas in 1936 who had nothing,” Webb said. “He had a broken hip and a blood infection in his system and when he died there was nothing for my mother's family. No government program that would take care of people in their old age. My grandmother ended up getting a job making artillery shells in an artillery plant in North Little Rock.
“When Social Security was announced, there were people who said, ‘This is a socialist program.’ When Medicare was announced people said, ‘Oh this is a socialist program,’” he said. “We were putting a safety net under people who otherwise would not be able to live with dignity. I am a strong believer of preserving Social Security as we know it and Medicare as we know it and if we have to pay for it, we have to pay for it. We have that obligation to our citizens."