Farm Bill Failure Gives Democrats Opening

GOP Lawmakers Targeted Over Failure To Pass Measure

getty images

By Reuters

Published October 13, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Multi Page

Democrats fighting an uphill battle to win a majority in the U.S. House of Representatives are trying to use rural angst over the failure of congressional Republicans to pass a farm bill to win some Midwestern seats in the Nov. 6 election.

The farm bill, which sets subsidies for everything from crop insurance to milk production, expired on Oct. 1 after the Republican majority in the House could not muster enough votes to pass a new law.

No race demonstrates the Democratic strategy better than in western Iowa, where Christie Vilsack, the wife of President Barack Obama’s agriculture secretary, Tom Vilsack, is stressing the farm bill in a bid to unseat conservative Republican Representative Steve King.

“The lack of a farm bill right now has the farming community up in arms,” said Bryan Kruse, 34, who has two small farms and works for another farmer to pay the bills outside Ringsted, population 422. “We need to get something done.”

Kruse wants to know if he can still get federal crop insurance to protect his corn and soybeans against disasters like this year’s drought.

Democrats need to gain 25 seats in the House to win back the majority they lost in the Republican sweep in 2010, and most analysts consider it a tall order.

Democrats are focusing on the farm bill in Iowa, Wisconsin, South Dakota, Colorado and Illinois. It is also a major issue in close U.S. Senate races in Montana and North Dakota, where Republican House members are seeking seats held by Democrats.

But convincing farmers and rural residents is tough in conservative western Iowa. Despite his concerns about the farm bill, lifelong Republican Kruse said he will vote for King, a conservative with a habit of making controversial statements.

“You can’t blame that failure on one man,” Kruse said, who worries that electing a Democrat such as Vilsack would lead to burdensome and costly regulations for farmers.

A few decaying, abandoned farms near where Kruse works are a sign of the rural decline and slow population growth that cut Iowa’s U.S. House seats to four from five after the 2010 census. Redistricting put Kruse in King’s new enlarged district, a huge area covering 39 counties dotted with small cities and towns.

Vilsack, whose husband also was Iowa governor, touts the fact that the Democratic-controlled U.S. Senate passed a farm bill, but the Republican House did not.

Steffen Schmidt, a politics professor at Iowa State University in Ames, says most Democrats have done a poor job of explaining that, apart from farm subsidies, the farm bill includes food stamps, school lunches and rural development money.

“A big failure of the Democrats is they have not explained the farm bill has broader economic and social implications,” Schmidt said. “Christie Vilsack has done better than other Democrats at making that point.”

The polls have been close in a race that has drawn a lot of money, but King says he is confident of farmers’ support because he has a chance to head the Agriculture Committee if Republicans retain their House majority. King ranks fourth in seniority on the committee but one of those ahead of him is retiring and another is focusing on another committee.

“No one is better placed” to become committee chairman, King told Reuters. “The farm community knows that.”

“CONSERVATIVE ALL THE WAY THROUGH”

In Iowa’s new 4th District, the yard signs in farm areas predominantly favor King. In small cities and towns, signs for Vilsack are more common.

Iowa Pork Producers Association President Bill Tentinger says American farmers are generally staunchly conservative.

“They’re fiscally conservative and socially conservative,” he said. “They’re conservative all the way through.”

Tammy Kobza, Iowa director of the socially conservative group Eagle Forum founded by conservative icon Phyllis Schlafly, says she supports King’s opposition to abortion and gay marriage, plus his call for repeal of Obama’s healthcare reforms.

“Morals matter out here,” she said. “Steve King personifies those morals and doesn’t want us to be dependent on government.”

But thanks to redistricting after the census, almost half of the district is new to King.

“The district is not as conservative as Steve King is used to and not as moderate as Christie Vilsack would like,” Iowa State’s Schmidt said.

Among Vilsack’s supporters is Steve Mahr, 27, an assistant manager at a restaurant in Orange City in King’s old district.

“Steve King has been offensive and embarrassing to our district,” he said, rattling off controversial remarks King has made about immigrants and dog fighting and his defense of Todd Akin, the Missouri Republican U.S. Senate candidate who said women have biological defenses against pregnancy from “legitimate rape.”

“We need someone who’ll look out for the people who need to be taken care of,” Mahr added. “Not just look out for the rich.”

While King is endorsed by the Iowa Farm Bureau, which has designated him a “friend of agriculture,” Vilsack is running as a moderate seeking “to create opportunities in small towns and cities” in part through the farm bill.

“Nothing’s getting done in Washington,” Vilsack said. “I want to be a problem solver who gets things done.”

King has won easily in the past, but in a sign of how close the race is he has agreed to a series of debates with Vilsack.

Both candidates have raised about $2 million in campaign contributions.

Vilsack has had contributions from labor groups such as the Service Employees International Union, plus Planned Parenthood. King’s donors have included the National Pork Producers Council based in Des Moines and Koch Industries, an energy company run by conservative billionaire brothers David and Charles Koch.

Some $2.7 million has also been spent by outside groups.

Tim Hagle, a politics professor at the University of Iowa, said the race is close enough to be swayed by whether Obama or Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney wins the swing state of Iowa by attracting independent voters.

“Both sides have to reach out to those voters if they want to win,” Hagle said.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Can you relate?
  • The Forverts' "Bintel Brief" advice column ran for more than 65 years. Now it's getting a second life — as a cartoon.
  • Half of this Hillel's members believe Jesus was the Messiah.
  • Vinyl isn't just for hipsters and hippies. Israeli photographer Eilan Paz documents the most astonishing record collections from around the world:http://jd.fo/g3IyM
  • Could Spider-Man be Jewish? Andrew Garfield thinks so.
  • Most tasteless video ever? A new video shows Jesus Christ dying at Auschwitz.
  • "It’s the smell that hits me first — musty, almost sweet, emanating from the green felt that cradles each piece of silver cutlery in its own place." Only one week left to submit! Tell us the story of your family's Jewish heirloom.
  • Mazel tov to Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky!
  • If it's true, it's pretty terrifying news.
  • “My mom went to cook at the White House and all I got was this tiny piece of leftover raspberry ganache."
  • Planning on catching "Fading Gigolo" this weekend? Read our review.
  • A new initiative will spend $300 million a year towards strengthening Israel's relationship with the Diaspora. http://jd.fo/q3Iaj Is this money spent wisely?
  • Lusia Horowitz left pre-state Israel to fight fascism in Spain — and wound up being captured by the Nazis and sent to die at Auschwitz. Share her remarkable story — told in her letters.
  • Vered Guttman doesn't usually get nervous about cooking for 20 people, even for Passover. But last night was a bit different. She was cooking for the Obamas at the White House Seder.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.