By Katie Dahlstrom Assistant Editor
The Clinton Herald
---- — DEWITT — Passing a farm bill that addresses agriculture but not food stamps and nutrition programs is impractical, U.S. Congressman Dave Loebsack told a group of Clinton County farmers Tuesday.
The Iowa City Democrat came to the Clinton County Farm Bureau in DeWitt as part of his tour of the 24 counties in his district, which he is visiting while Congress is on a five-week summer break. During his visit, Loebsack talked to a handful of farmers about the farm bill and other agriculture issues.
When the farm bill from 2008 was set to expire last year, Congress passed a one-year extension of the bill, which will expire on Sept. 30. When legislators head back to Washington, they will have less than 10 legislative days until the farm bill expires.
The U.S. Senate passed a farm bill this year. However, the House failed to pass a a five-year farm bill that would have cut about $20 billion from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Some House members have called for $40 billion in cuts to the SNAP program in the next decade.
Loebsack told the handful of farmers who met with him at the Clinton County Farm Bureau in DeWitt that he was one of 24 Democrats to vote for the bill.
“I thought that what we needed to do was to get that bill out of the House. I didn’t agree with certain aspects of it, in particular those draconian cuts, but get that out of the House,” he said. “The main thing was to get the farm bill part of it done.”
The bill failed by 39 votes. An agriculture-only bill that Loebsack did not vote for did pass in the House.
DeWitt farmer Jerome Burken asked Loebsack if the farm bill has a better chance of passing if the food stamps and nutrition portions are left out. Funding for food stamps has been part of the farm bill for 40 years, making it unlikely a bill that didn’t deal with food stamps would pass, Loebsack explained.
“As you know these things have been combined for decades and they’ve been combined for practical reasons,” Loebsack said, referencing his fellow Iowa Congressmen and Senators. “All of us believe it’s not practical to get a farm bill per say without keeping these together.”
The bill is critical to farmers as it contains provisions on crop insurance and conservation.
“Especially after last year, you would have had people belly-up. Crop insurance helped everyone survive,” Elvira farmer Curt Allen said.
Clinton County farmers also told Loebsack the conservation parts of the bill are important, especially due to shipping their products along the Mississippi River. The group also discussed other agriculture issues affecting farmers, such as renewable fuel source legislation and tax breaks for purchasing equipment.
After the talk on the farm bill, Loebsack fielded a question on a potential war with Syria, the Middle Eastern country suspected of using chemical weapons against its own people, an international war crime.
“I have a lot of concerns, certainly with boots on the ground. I also have a lot of concerns about even any kind of air strikes and doing any of this without any kind of significant international support from other countries,” Loebsack said.
“I think we need to be really cautious and think really hard and if the president’s serious about using military force, I hope that he will consult Congress and I would like to see us called back into session,” he added.