Baldwin defends farm bill during visit

The recently passed 2014 farm bill is far from perfect, but the good outweighs the bad for Wisconsin farmers, U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin said Tuesday in Eau Claire.

“The farm bill has new reforms the likes of which we haven’t seen in decades,” Baldwin, D-Wis., said in a wide-ranging interview with the Leader-Telegram Editorial Board.

The first-term senator and former House member from Madison said the bill represented a step forward in agriculture policy because it eliminated some decades-old direct subsidy commodity payments that have outlived their usefulness, saving $23 billion over the life of the bill.

It also provides certainty and stability for farmers who need to know what the rules are as they make plans for their businesses, she said, noting that farmers were forced to get by without that knowledge when Congress failed to pass a new farm bill in a timely manner.

Still, as compromise legislation passed in bipartisan fashion, the farm bill includes several provisions Baldwin doesn’t support.

“Could we have saved more if we tackled cotton and sugar and other things that remained in the bill that I don’t agree with? Yeah. But could we have passed it? I’m not sure,” Baldwin said. “There are many battles that will live for another day.”

Asked about the balancing act between stimulating the economy and curtailing deficits, Baldwin said she disagreed with legislators who argue they are mutually exclusive.

“I think we have dual challenges facing our country — getting the debt in check and getting the deficit in check and growing our economy,” Baldwin said. “We can walk and chew gum at the same time. ... I would fault somebody who says there’s only one thing we should focus on to the exclusion of everything else. We actually have to confront both challenges at the same time.”

Baldwin suggested the farm bill was a good example of that, as it cuts spending substantially while still providing key support for agriculture-related jobs, including about 350,000 in Wisconsin.

However, state Republican Party spokesman Jesse Dougherty criticized Baldwin’s stand.

“Tammy Baldwin thinks she can have it both ways, but the truth is her policies have only led one direction: backwards,” Dougherty said Tuesday in a statement. “Baldwin has voted to increase taxes by trillions, and has even said that the President’s failed health care law wasn’t extreme enough. These policies don’t help the middle class or job growth.”

Propane heat

In response to what she characterized as this winter’s “propane crisis,” in which supplies have been limited and prices of the heating fuel have tripled and even quadrupled, Baldwin pointed out that she has put pressure on the Obama administration to takes steps to alleviate the problem.

She called for limits on propane exports at a time when domestic supply, at least in the Upper Midwest, was so short and suggested temporarily dedicating a couple of pipelines to propane only until the crisis was resolved. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission followed through on that request with a key pipeline last week.

Among other steps, Baldwin said she also has called for a temporary waiver on hours-of-service limits on truckers so they could deliver propane faster, the early release of federal funding for Wisconsin’s low-income energy assistance program and federal inquiries into potential price-gouging and ways to prevent a similar emergency from happening again.

Economic help

Regarding two economic issues Democrats have been advocating — raising the federal minimum wage and extending emergency jobless benefits for the long-term unemployed — Baldwin said she will continue to push for both measures.

She dismissed common arguments against the proposals.

Letters her office receives showing how hard many jobless residents are working to find employment at a time when job seekers outnumber available jobs about 3 to 1 dispel any assertions that the unemployed are lazy, she said.

Baldwin added that evidence from past increases in the minimum wage shows that the Democrats’ latest proposal to raise it to $10.10 an hour over three years would not lead to a reduction of jobs.

By contrast, state GOP executive director Joe Fadness maintained in a recent statement that Republicans want Wisconsin workers to earn more, but not through a government mandate that would make it more expensive for employers to add workers.

The partisan divide dims the prospects for both proposals, Baldwin acknowledged.

“It will be a challenge to pass (either) through the Senate,” she said, “but I think it will be a fight that will show where people stand on this issue and how important they think alleviation of poverty and growing the ranks of the middle class really is as a centerpiece issue.”

By:  Eric Lindquist
Source: Eau Claire Leader-Telegram