The Hagstrom Report

Agriculture News As It Happens


Conservative group's ads target Lucas, King, Hartzler; Vilsack calls on House to take up farm bill


The parameters of the debate over why the House leadership is so slow to bring up the farm bill became clearer Monday as a conservative group took out $75,000 in radio advertising urging constituents of House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, and Rep. Vicky Hartzler, R-Mo., to call upon them to “fix the farm bill.”

Meanwhile, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said the bill is needed to provide drought relief to farmers.

Vilsack also announced additional measures USDA is taking to allow farmers to hay and graze on lands in conservation programs, and appealed to insurance companies not to charge farmers interest on unpaid premiums. (See following stories.)

House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said the House leadership is delaying the farm bill while they try to educate members on it, National Journal reported.

American Commitment announced it was taking out the ads focused on Lucas, King and Hartzler because “All three voted for the fiscally reckless $957 billion farm bill in committee and are calling for it to be brought to the House floor.”

“Whether you’re a powerful committee chairman, a tea party icon, or a conservative freshman, if you support spending almost a trillion dollars we don’t have, that’s a problem and we’re going to educate and mobilize the public,” the group said in the announcement.

Phil Kerpen
Phil Kerpen
“This $957 billion so-called farm bill spends $756 billion on Food Stamps — that’s 79 percent of the bill’s spending total,” American Commitment President Phil Kerpen wrote in a news release posted on the group’s website.

“It’s a program rampant with fraud and abuse that has more than doubled in size since 2008,” Kerpen said. “Congress should be fixing the economy so people have good jobs and get off food stamps — not locking in place Obama’s failed dependency policies for another five years. We urge House leadership not to bring this bill to the floor, and if they do we urge members of the House to vote NO.”

The one-minute ads do not deal with the upcoming elections, but say that the farm bill mostly pays for food stamps and that the farm aid in the bill goes to corporate interests.

King is running against Christie Vilsack, the former Iowa first lady and the agriculture secretary’s wife.

Kerpen previously worked for American for Prosperity, a superPAC founded by the Koch brothers. Kerpen has not released the names of donors to Americans for Prosperity, which is a is a 501(c)4 nonprofit organization.

He also has not released the names of donors to American Commitment, which is described on its website as “designed to fill the capabilities gap between think tanks engaged in pure public policy work and grassroots organizations engaged in mobilizing citizen activists.”

Kerpen also worked at the Free Enterprise Fund, the Club for Growth, and the Cato Institute and writes for Fox News Opinion and the National Review Online.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack
In a call to reporters from Iowa where he is touring farm areas and giving speeches, Vilsack said the House should bring up the farm bill and not consider an extension because an extension would not re-establish the disaster aid programs that have expired.

“There is nothing more important to rural America and nothing more important to producers, farmers and ranchers in this country than action on this bill,” Vilsack said. “There’s no greater need for this help and assistance than now, and there’s no excuse or reason why the House of Representatives cannot take this matter up.”

Picking up on the theme of his speeches this week, which point out that rural America is more capable of handling this year’s drought than during the farm crisis of the 1980s, Vilsack said, “Rural America is more resilient but needs this help. I don’t know a single farmer who would take a recess if there was work to be done in the field.”

Vilsack said Lucas and ranking member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., understand the importance of the farm bill and have asked the leadership to take it up, and that he wanted to add his name to those making that request.

“Extending the 2008 farm bill will not revive the disaster programs,” Vilsack added. “That is why it is important to have it in the farm bill.” Delay, he said, increases the chances that the farm bill “gets wrapped up into a larger conversation on budget cuts” in the lame duck session.

Vilsack said that on his tour of Iowa he had seen everything from “significant damage” to crops that are in good shape.

Asked if he would support the proposals of four Democratic senators — Kent Conrad of North Dakota, Max Baucus and Jon Tester of Montana, and Tim Johnson of South Dakot — to revive the SURE disaster program for crop farmers with some changes to make its payments speedier, Vilsack said he is most concerned about livestock producers because they do not have crop insurance, but would work with Congress on other disaster aid programs.

“Until the House has a vote, all the talk is hypothetical,” Vilsack said. “Then we talk about what that work needs to include. We need action by the House. Then we can take a look and see where we are.”

McCarthy told reporters that Republican House leaders are working to “educate” their members about the contents of the bill, and surmised “we have an uphill battle” in getting it passed.

“When we have the votes, we’ll move it,” McCarthy said. “It's our intention to get it done,” he told reporters, although he would only commit to trying to “get it done before the end of the year.”

McCarthy acknowledged that the House leadership has not actually counted the votes.

One of the difficulties is that House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., is against the bill, he maintained. But Pelosi has only come out against the cuts to the food stamp program and has in fact urged the House Republican leadership to bring up the bill.