U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack was in St. Louis Thursday to meet with business executives, local elected officials and community leaders regarding agriculture exports.
After the meeting, Vilsack told reporters that the discussion centered around President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address, including rebuilding aging infrastructure and immigration reform.
The secretary said St. Louis business leaders told him that immigration reform is needed to help attract researchers, scientists and laborers from other countries.
Vilsack said comprehensive immigration reform would contribute to the economy in other ways, including reducing the deficit.
"Because it encourages people. It provides a pathway to citizenship that’s earned," Vilsack said. "You bring folks out of the shadows. When you bring them out of the shadows they basically become fully contributing workers to the economy, which means they pay their full share of taxes."
Vilsack said the Congressional Budget Office has estimated that changing immigration policy has the potential to reduce the deficit by more than $830 billion over the next 20 years.
Aside from immigration reform, the agriculture secretary talked about the importance of infrastructure improvement on the Mississippi River. He said that if Congress will not act to upgrade the locks and dams on the river, the president will look for creative ways to address the issue.
Vilsack gave a theoretical example of an energy company building a hydro dam and financing improvements to a lock and dam along the river as part of the project.
"It would create the power they need to offset the need to build a larger more expensive generation facility," he said. "Maybe there’s an opportunity to work with a utility company along the Mississippi River or any other river."
Vilsack also discussed the passage of the Farm Bill by the House on Wednesday.
"This Farm Bill gives us the tools to expand research; something that this area knows all too well is important," Vilsack said.
The secretary said that agricultural research in particular could help create more jobs and expand manufacturing hubs by leading to crops that produce fuel, chemicals, fabrics and plastics.
He said he was hopeful the Senate would pass the Farm Bill as soon as Tuesday.