On Wednesday, October 31st, the U.S.-Panama Free Trade Agreement (FTA) will go into effect, more than five years after it was first signed. The agreement is good news for West Texas agriculture. Currently, our agricultural goods face an average tariff of 15 percent in Panama, with some tariffs much higher. Prime and choice beef cuts face a 30 percent tariff today, but on Wednesday, that will be eliminated. The agreement will lock in Panama’s zero-tariff on American cotton, and eliminate tariffs on most peanuts and peanut products immediately, with the rest being phased out by 2017. Panama is a rapidly expanding economy, so we have a great chance to increase our sales and create more opportunities here at home.
Between 2008 and 2010, Texas exported an average of $1.3 billion in goods to Panama. We can expect to see that number grow now that there will be no tariffs making this trade more expensive. I’ll keep working to expand our opportunities to sell high quality Texas products around the world.
Estate Tax Rate will Hurt Local Producers
At the end of this year, a number of current tax rates will expire unless new legislation is passed to extend those rates. One of the rates that will be affected is the estate tax, a tax on assets passed down between generations. Ranchers and farmers will suffer if the current rates are not extended. Currently, there is a 35 percent tax on estates worth more than $5 million for an individual or $10 million for a couple. That will revert to a 55 percent tax rate on estates worth $1 million at the end of this year if nothing is done. I am a strong supporter of eliminating the estate tax, and will continue to work toward a full repeal. I am a co-sponsor of the Death Tax Repeal Permanency Act, which would extend the current estate tax rates permanently. At the very least, we must make sure that current tax rates are extended so that the devastating 55 percent rate does not take effect. The federal government has a spending problem, not a revenue problem, and I am committed to ensuring that American families do not continue to fund the debt that the current administration has gotten us into.
Welfare is Now the Largest Federal Expense
Recently, the non-partisan Congressional Research Service reported that welfare is now the single largest federal expense – larger than Social Security, Medicare and national defense. Eighty-three different welfare programs at the state and federal levels contributed to more than $1 trillion in spending in 2011. Unfortunately, this spending is doing very little to reduce poverty or help 12 million unemployed Americans find work. It is a shame that the federal government spends so much with very little impact on those who need help. House Republicans have proposed legislation that would make the welfare system more efficient, including the State Nutrition Assistance Flexibility Act and the Welfare Reform Act of 2011. We must look at the details of each program to eliminate loopholes and fraud. Our focus must also be on allowing the private sector to create jobs so Americans can get back on their feet. It is my top priority to make sure the government is spending taxpayer money wisely, and I will continue to fight for less spending and more accountability.
Dana and I are praying for those on the East Coast.