DEWITT — Sitting in nearly the same spot as he was a little more than two months ago, U.S. Rep. Dave Lobesack again spoke to Clinton County farmers about a yet-to-be-passed Farm Bill.
Loebsack met with members of the Clinton County Farm Bureau building in DeWitt on Wednesday to talk about the Farm Bill, the Water Resources Development Act and other issues lawmakers are still deliberating.
He told the eight farmers who gathered for the discussion he has mistakenly been introduced as a member of the U.S. House Agriculture Committee more than once, a mistake he credits to the work he has done to get the Farm Bill passed.
Loebsack was one of 24 House Democrats in July to vote for the bill that at the time called for $20 billion in cuts over 20 years. He tied the bill’s inability to pass to Tea Party Republicans, who he said Speaker John Boehner will need to work with in order to get the bill passed.
“Unfortunately, there are a lot of folks, as you know, among the Tea Party Republicans who are taking a lot of things out on a lot of people,” Loebsack said. “Not only do they want to approve the cuts to the food stamps...but they don’t want crop insurance subsidies. They just don’t want government.”
The current House bill calls for $4 billion in annual cuts to the $80 billion a year program, amounting to $40 billion over the course of 10 years. The Senate bill entails less cuts at $400 million a year, or $4 billion during the same decade.
The House-Senate Conference Committee held their first public meetings on the legislation last week.
Loebsack would like to see the bill passed as one piece rather than separating food stamps from the bill, but said Congress would be lucky to pass a unified Farm Bill this year and likely never see the bill in the same shape again.
“I’m not predicting, but I’m hopeful that we can actually get a bill now and get it to the floor and at least have some semblance of that rural, urban combination of forces and political forces that we have had for several decades,” Loebsack said. “But I’m not at all convinced that it’s ever going to happen again past this year.”
Clinton County Farm Bureau President Joe Dierckx concurred with Loebsack’s vision to pass unified piece of legislation.
“I believe, too, that having the nutrition in with the farm is important so we can have a coalition. Our town brethren can benefit from the farm bill being passed and farmers can, too,” Dierickx said.
While he avoided making any predictions about when the bill would be passed, Loebsack said he hoped it would happen before Thanksgiving. Farmers pointed out the Farm Bill has far reaching effects that stretch beyond rural areas. They also pointed out not passing the $500 billion piece of legislation could have devastating effects such as $6 a gallon milk prices.
“I think you could make the argument that the farm bill portion is reducing costs for everybody,” Elvira-area farmer Curt Allen said.
Farmers also urged for the amendment proposed by Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, which attempts to stop states such as California from barring goods from other states based on how they are produced.
At issue specifically are eggs laid in battery cages, which concerns the farm bureau members because of the amount of eggs produced in such a way in Iowa, a portion of which go to California.
The “King Amendment” has sparked a debate among several groups about states’ rights, the commerce clause and animal rights.
Dierckx argued California’s ban would harm the people that the nutritional programs at the heart of the Farm Bill debate are set to help because of the higher cost associated with free-range eggs.
“It’s a fine line we’re dancing here. If we really care about poor people we need to make sure we can get them an affordable product,” Dierckx said.
The group also discussion the Water Resources Development Act.
The Senate has appointed conferees for negotiations on the Water Resources Development Act reauthorization. The law authorized flood control, navigation, and environmental projects and studies by the United States Army Corps of Engineers. He told farmers he understands the act’s importance on agriculture because of the significant role the Mississippi River plays in exporting corn and soybeans.
Dierckx explained the locks and dams are critical for importing South American soybeans used to feed the livestock and some corn for ethanol, as well.
“As much as I didn’t like it because I wanted to sell corn for an even higher price, it makes sense strategically for this country to have the ability to go both ways. WRDA would help that if we could just re-do the locks and dams,” Dierckx said.
Despite the critical importance of maintaining the locks and dams, Loebsack said without private and public partnerships, WRDA had a faint chance of working.
“Given our budget situation, given the fiscal problems that we’re having now, even if we get a WRDA bill finished soon and we have an authorization for whatever amount of money for whatever amount of years, it’s highly unlikely that the federal government is going to be able to fund it at that level. Whatever that level may be,” Loebsack said.