Branstad urges Congress to act on Farm Bill

BY CASSIDY RILEY | JULY 30, 2013 5:00 AM

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Farmers, legislators, and experts in Iowa expressed mixed reactions to Gov. Terry Branstad’s letter to Congress calling on it to take immediate action on the farm bill.

Branstad — along with Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds, Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey, and Chuck Gipp, the director of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources — sent the letter to the congressional leaders on July 25 expressing the importance of the farm bill to Iowa and the rest of the country. The letter asked the leaders of both parties to come together quickly to pass a new farm bill.

“Gov. Branstad believes passage of the farm bill is vitally important to provide predictability and stability to the Iowa farm economy,” Tim Albrecht, Branstad’s spokesman, wrote in an email. “The governor believes both parties in both legislative chambers should work together on a bipartisan basis to enact this legislation and provide Iowa farmers the certainty they deserve.”

Larry Sailer, a farmer from Franklin County, said he applauds Branstad’s effort to stir up momentum in Congress on the issue.

“He needs to be a cheerleader,” he said. “I think it’s great that he put his two cents worth in. I hope that it would move forward the debate and get the farm bill jump-started again.”

If Congress does not reach a compromise before the end of September, Tim Hagle — a University of Iowa associate professor of political science — said it is likely the old farm bill will be extended for another year, which Sailer said would waste tax dollars.

The old bill provides the farmers with direct payments based on how much they plant per acre, which he said most farmers are willing to give up.

“We’re trying to do our part to balance the budget,” he said. “We have to get rid of this gridlock in politics. Both parties have great points but they’ve taken it to such an extreme that there’s no way to get legislation passed.”

Hagle said the current tension over the farm bill is in relation to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly referred to as food stamps. He said Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives are concerned at how much the program has grown in the past few years. In August 2008, 29 million Americans used nutrition assistance. As of April, more than 47 million Americans were using the program.

“When you have a governor of a farm state like Iowa that is sending a letter to the leaders of Congress, you hope that it would get them to spur things along,” Hagle said.

Sen. Dan Zumbach, R-Ryan, characterized Branstad’s letter as being wise.

“He understands the impact agriculture has on the state of Iowa,” he said. “Gov. Branstad is a well-read man. What he has to offer is pretty good information, so I’d like to think they’d listen to him.”

State Democrats were less impressed with Branstad’s letter.

Iowa Rep. Dave Jacoby, D-Coralville, said Branstad’s letter was purely a political move.

“That letter is eight months overdue, and quite frankly, if he really wanted to get any work done, he could have met with the Legislature [in January] to see what we could do to get it done,” he said. “If it was truly one of his priorities to get the farm bill done at a national level he could have asked for collective support [from the Iowa Legislature].”

Trudy Wastweet, national policy adviser for the Iowa Farm Bureau, said regardless of the effect Brandstad’s letter may or may not have on the farm-bill debate, at the very least it should get the attention of Iowa representatives.

“Every legislator is looking for their constituents to speak up and tell them what’s important, and when the governor of your home state speaks up and puts this in writing, that’s very noteworthy,” she said. “The more people who speak up with the same voice and the same message, the better.”

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