ROCHESTER - Rep. Mike Benson (R-Rochester), who is running for Minnesota's 1st Congressional District, said he would have voted against the passage of the Farm Bill. He also said he feels the food stamp program in the bill should be given a "serious look" and that it should be put into separate bill from the agriculture portions of the Farm Bill.
The Farm Bill, which is compromised of agriculture, nutrition and food stamp legislation, is considered a key piece of federal legislation for farmers, both in regulations and funding items. The portion have been passed as a combined package for years as a "grand bargain" to ensure the passage of both rural agriculture needs and big city nutrition needs. The bill has been stalled for years due to the partisan conflict in the U.S. Congress. Republican have take particular issue with seeking large cuts to the food stamp programs, which lead to the recent Farm Bill defeat last week.
"I think the Farm Bill still needs a lot of work. I'm going to put together a round table from across the district of farmers both small and large," said Benson, "Unfortunately, we call it the Farm Bill but a lot the money, a bigger portion of what is in it, is HHS, in my mind it's a food stamp program."
When asked follow-up questions on his statement, Benson said he would have voted against the bill even with the smaller size and cuts to food stamp programs in the most recent version of the bill. He said he has "serious concerns" with the number of people on the federal food stamp program, but blames the problem on Pres. Barack Obama's mismanagement of the economy.
However, he said he believes its essential that the agriculture portions of the bill be passed to let farmers know "what the rules are going to be" and to help them recover from severe weather like the ongoing drought. He said he believes the Farm Bill should be split to guarantee the agriculture is passed. He joining the portions of the Farm Bill was bad for both sides and prevented effective budgeting.
The Minnesota DFL Party was quick to criticize Benson as letting his ideology trump pragmatism and certainty. They accused him of being out of touch with the rural needs of the district.
U.S. Rep. Tim Walz (DFL-Minnesota), who Benson is seeking to challenge in the 2014 election, has been one of the most prominent advocates for passage of the Farm Bill. In previous statements, he adamantly opposed splitting the bills because it would unfairly play the different needs of cities and rural communities against each other. He said he believes it would actually make it much more difficult to passed legislation needed for farmers.
During last year's campaign, he also criticized pushes to severely cut food stamp programs. He argued that nearly the entire portion of the program was consumed by the elderly and children.
In a statement sent during the Farm Bill's recent defeat, Walz argued that the U.S. House and Senate should work harder at seeking a compromise version of the bill.
"Washington is broken and it's long past time for folks out here to get things done and stop viewing compromise as a dirty word," said Walz, "Doing nothing only costs the government more money, increases prices at the grocery store, and puts the squeeze on middle class families. Our nation deserves better."
Josh Moniz can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org