Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan and President Barack Obama (The Detroit News) )
President Barack Obama’s visit to Michigan State University today marks a rare bill signing ceremony outside of Washington, and a unique opportunity for the state’s agriculture research to step into the national spotlight.
The visit takes on added significance because Obama, according to a source with knowledge of the situation, will lunch with Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, whose city is going through the nation’s largest municipal bankruptcy.
Obama, who hasn’t commented publicly on Detroit’s record-setting Chapter 9 bankruptcy, will squeeze in the lunch with Duggan and the White House’s Detroit point person Don Graves, senior adviser at the President’s National Economic Council, during the three hours that he is scheduled to be in Michigan.
The White House extended the lunch invitation to Duggan, which officials described as rare, on Wednesday. It was not immediately clear where the two would go.
Obama has been repeatedly briefed on Detroit's financial woes over the last six months and will be briefed ahead of his lunch with Duggan.
When Vice President Joe Biden dined last month with Duggan in Detroit, he said the federal government would not provide a bailout to help the city exit bankruptcy, but it would look for ways to help the Motor City with existing federal money and resources.
After the lunch, Obama will go to a veterinary medicine center on the MSU campus and sign into law the farm bill co-written by Lansing native Sen. Debbie Stabenow, an MSU grad who chairs the Senate Agriculture Committee and championed the five-year legislation that sets the nation’s agricultural and nutrition policy.
Signings rare outside D.C.
It’s one of the few times Obama has held a bill signing ceremony outside of Washington and the first at a university, said Allan J. Lichtman, distinguished professor of history at American University. Obama signed the economic stimulus bill in Denver in February 2009 and the America Invents Act patent reform at an Alexandria, Va., high school in September 2011.
“Normally, you sign them in Washington, but some very important bills have been signed outside of Washington,” said Lichtman, who studies the American presidency.
The signing has drawn attention to the farm bill that overcame more than two years of partisan and regional differences and was approved this week by Congress. The 959-page compromise legislation has been hailed as a sign that bipartisanship can still be achieved in Washington.
“This is really exciting,” said MSU plant pathology professor Ray Hammerschmidt of the presidential visit. “He recognizes the importance of the farm bill and ... the hard work and efforts put in by Sen. Stabenow.”
Both Michigan senators will attend the farm bill signing. Gov. Rick Snyder and Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Howell, will not attend. Rogers is on a prearranged trip and Snyder is making a speech.
Bill funds MSU research
Few universities in the country have benefited more from the farm bill than MSU. The U.S. Department of Agriculture funded more than $26 million in research and development there in 2011 alone — making MSU the eighth highest recipient of competitive agriculture research dollars in the nation.
Obama’s visit is his first to Michigan since December 2012, when he toured the Detroit Diesel plant in Redford Township. The afternoon bill-signing is by invitation-only at the McPhail Equine Performance Center. It will be tamer than the public campaign rally Obama hosted on MSU’s campus in October 2008 to drum up college support a month before his first presidential election.
A small group of researchers will show Obama examples of how the federal dollars have been put to work on projects ranging from converting biomass to fuels to plant breeding.
“There’s a lot of fascinating things in agriculture,” said David Douches, professor and geneticist at MSU who recently developed a new variety of potato that farmers can store longer after harvest.
MSU is headquarters to a $5.4 million U.S. Department of Agriculture project, headed by Douches and known as SolCAP, that studies plant genetics for breeding new varieties of tomatoes and potatoes. The university also is home to a regional headquarters of the National Plant Diagnostic Network that helps growers identify crops for diseases and pests.
Michigan is the second most diverse state behind California in agriculture crops and is a leading producer of cucumbers for pickles, blueberries and tart cherries. Through specialty crop federal research dollars, MSU has made its mark on ag research by solving problems such as crop disease and insect infestation.
The attention on the farm bill, which must be reauthorized every five years, is a chance to highlight the daily work conducted to protect the nation’s food supply and improve production, researchers say.
“Obviously, everyone would like more attention and more money, but I think it’s also some of our responsibility to do a better job of helping people understand that what we do is important to them,” said Doug Buhler, director of MSU AgBioResearch.