Not a rosy outlook

1/25/2013

Huelskamp not too optimistic about fate of federal farm bill.

Huelskamp not too optimistic about fate of federal farm bill.

BY SCOTT AUST

saust@gctelegram.com

U.S. Rep. Tim Huelskamp had no answers Thursday about the ongoing drought in Kansas, other than praying very hard about it.

He said he has no answers on the farm bill, either.

Huelskamp told people attending Thursday's opening of the Garden City Farm and Ranch Show that he isn't sure Congress will pass a new farm bill this year, but he's generally not optimistic given the stance of the Republican leadership in Congress.

"I don't think there's a new attitude yet among House leadership. It was House leadership, particularly the Speaker (John Boehner), who said there would be no farm bill in 2012," Huelskamp said. "Two weeks ago, (during the fiscal cliff standoff) the existing farm bill was extended through September."

Huelskamp hopes the leadership will permit a bill to come to the floor for debate this year, something it refused to do last year.

Though he is no longer a member of the House Agriculture Committee, Huelskamp said he intends to continue to push for the bill.

"As many of you might know, the Speaker of the House, who would not let a farm bill come to the floor, decided a fifth-generation farmer should not be on the House ag committee. But despite that, I continue to work on the issue," he said.

Boehner removed Huelskamp from both the Agriculture Committee and the House Budget Committee in December, for what was reported in the media as voting too often against party leaders, such as voting against budget committee chairman Paul Ryan's budget plan.

Huelskamp, who also sits on Veterans' Affairs and Small Business committees, said at the time that the removal from the other committees was an effort to silence outspoken conservatives in Congress.

On Thursday, Huelskamp said the No. 1 issue in the farm bill is crop insurance, something that will continue to be a top issue with or without a farm bill.

"The farm bill that passed through committee last year included some critical updates for crop insurance. Certainly, when talking about drought and potential disaster relief, the number one issue in the farm bill remains crop insurance," he said.

Huelskamp said only about 20 percent of the farm bill deals with agriculture — things like crop insurance or drought disaster relief. The rest — 80 percent, he estimates — covers food stamps and nutrition programs.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture website, $74.6 billion was spent on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the official name for the food stamp program, in fiscal year 2012, and about 47 million people used the program. Huelskamp called those numbers the sign of a poor economy, and said he believes most of the increased use is due to fraud and rules making it easier to qualify for food stamps.

"That's what's holding (the farm bill) up. I think it's high time we had food stamp reform," he said.

On other topics, Huelskamp said concerning the national economy as a whole that small businesses are struggling to survive due to increased taxes, new regulations and President Obama's health care plan.

"There's tremendous uncertainty in the economy, particularly if you're a small business," he said.

While he's working hard to provide some common sense to the dialogue in Washington, Huelskamp said that at the end of the day, the national debt stands around $16.4 trillion.

"That seems to be a problem Washington refuses to attack and refuses to solve," he said. "It's an enormous strain on the economy, and a burden on future generations. Basically, we're borrowing from future children and grandchildren and spending it today. That can't go on forever."

When questioned about a push in Congress to end tax incentives for sustainable energy like wind power while continuing to subsidize the oil and gas industry, Huelskamp said the wind production tax credit was extended as part of the fiscal cliff deal earlier this month, pointing out it will cost $12 billion.

"I think, frankly, after 20 years, the wind industry should be able to compete. Same thing for oil and gas. I think they should all be eliminated and allowed to compete," he said. "Whether it's wind or solar or algae, do you need Washington's handout to compete? Some of them do, and some do not."

The Farm and Ranch show continues today and Saturday at the Finney County Exhibition Building, 209 Lake Ave. Doors open daily at 9 a.m. Admission is free.

Today's farm show schedule features an Ag Outlook 2013 discussion, with guest Kansas Agriculture Secretary Dale Rodman concerning progress of LEMA; Jeff Hutton, National Weather Service, will have a weather trends presentation; and ag marketing professionals will talk about world supply, crop demand and the impact on farm prices.

At 11 a.m. Saturday, the Kansas Water Forum will address groundwater issues facing farmers and the use of alternative crops that require less water. The forum will feature Tracy Streeter of the Kansas Water Office, along with a panel of guests to discuss options and possible water shortage emergencies for producers in the near future. A question-and-answer session is planned.

Also on Saturday, Rex Buchanan, Kansas Geological Survey director, will discuss oil and gas industry fracking and its impact on agriculture.

The Mid America Ag Network is host for the event, which will be televised in a special television web-cast each day of the show at KWKSmedia.org and MidAmericaAgNetwork.com.

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