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Monday, September 6, 2010

Herseth Sandlin vs. Noem: Where to Cut Farm Bill?

Part 2 of South Dakota State Fair Congressional Debate analysis

The first question at Sunday's ag-focused debate asked what cuts the candidates would propose for the farm bill.

Kristi Noem went first. She said that farmers are looking more for risk management assistance than direct payments. She said the 2008 Farm Bill moved in that direction. Noem then lamented that only 18% of South Dakota farmers participate in the ACRE program.

Noem took a moment here to mention that we need someone in Congress who understands farms (the implication being that she's a better choice since she has lived on a ranch while managing her hunting lodge, a never-mentioned insurance business, and her mom's Watertown café than her opponent who grew up on a farm, then went away to college and Congress).

Noem proceeded to say that South Dakota needs permanent disaster relief. She pointed to $75 million in disaster payments the state has received but complained that the U.S. House missed an opportunity to make those payments permanent.

Ultimately, said Noem, we need to simplify programs like ACRE to make it easier for farmers to take advantage of federal assistance (as her family has, to the tune of $3,058,152 in farm subsidies from 1995 to 2009, a haul establishes the Noems has the 18th biggest recipient of farm subsidies in South Dakota over the last 15 years).

Now read all that again. The question was about making cuts in the farm bill. Noem hinted at cutting direct payments in her first sentence, but the rest of her answer focused on making more assistance available to farmers.

Herseth Sandlin listened and called Noem out. She said the question was about cuts and said Noem doesn't offer specific solutions but just tells you what's already in the bill.

Herseth Sandlin said direct payments will take more cuts, simply because they are harder and harder to justify to taxpayers. She said cuts to conservation programs in the 2008 Farm Bill were a prelude to future hard decisions (I'm not sure I like that answer—we're going to cut more from conservation?!—but she's telling us where the cuts will happen).

That said, Herseth Sandlin did go farther afield, saying that the cuts already made by her House Ag Committee are the kinds of responsible cuts every committee should be making. She said her committee found $6 billion in savings in the 2008 Farm Bill, redirected $2 billion to support necessary programs, and put $4 billion toward deficit reduction. Herseth Sandlin said that while ag programs can take some cuts, she will demand fiscal responsibility like that from all areas and not let the farm bill be the lone whipping boy.

Assessment: Talking cuts is unpleasant. Talking cuts to ag spending at the State Fair is downright risky. Both candidates do some dodging, but Herseth Sandlin gives the more direct answer and takes a hard shot at her opponent. Advantage Herseth Sandlin on substance and elbows.

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