CEDAR RAPIDS — Iowa 1st District Democratic challenger Abby Finkenauer is calling for more policy and less politics in the federal Farm Bill, which currently is stalled in a congressional conference committee at the same time President Donald Trump’s trade policies pose a $2.2 billion threat to the state’s economy.
In her plans to support Iowa’s agricultural economy, which Finkenauer rolled out Thursday, the two-term state representative from Dubuque calls for more mental health help for farmers, limiting who gets farm support payments and protecting crop insurance and subsidy payments from budget cuts.
Finkenauer, who is challenging two-term Dubuque Republican U.S. Rep. Rod Blum, said the Farm Bill has become “a political football where Washington politicians fight over political issues that sometimes have little to do with family farms here in Iowa.” She supported the Senate-passed version of the Farm Bill, but said she was “disappointed to see House Republicans play politics with this important legislation and use farmers as a bargaining chip to push forward their partisan agenda.”
“Enough is enough,” she said. “This broken policy-making process has real costs for farmers, who need stability and common sense from Washington. Instead, they get nothing but uncertainty.”
Blum’s campaign was not impressed with Finkenauer’s policy rollout.
“That a 29-year-old who hasn’t kept a full-time job now claims to be an expert in agriculture is laughable, and Iowans don’t buy it,” Alexah Rogge said. “This is the same woman who said farmers ‘won’t be buying plows.’ No one has bought a plow for 30 years.”
Finkenauer said farmers are threatened by falling net farm income, a shrinking share of consumers’ food spending and the president’s trade war that “has led to harsh retaliation by major foreign markets.”
Although the United States must stand up to China when it doesn’t play by the rules, Finkenauer said it must be done strategically “in a way that doesn’t put our farmers at risk and avoid using them as a bargaining chip.”
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“We need a new path,” she said, one that doesn’t “use our farmers as a political bargaining chip in a partisan political spat or as collateral damage in risky trade war.”
And instead of stability and common sense from Congress, farmers get “nothing but uncertainty, which as any farmer can tell you can be devastating to their livelihood,” Finkenauer said.
The U.S. House is in recess until after the Nov. 6 election, which means farmers won’t know what farm programs they can count on when planning their 2019 crops, she said. At least 39 Farm Bill programs will lose funding as a result of the stalemate.
Finkenauer called for farm policy that creates an environment in which family farms can thrive and “ensure that the next generation of farmers see opportunity and potential in agriculture, much like our grandparents’ generation did.”
In addition to defending crop insurance, maintaining investments in agricultural research at Iowa State and other universities, and strengthening community banks and local lenders who work with farmers, Finkenauer said she wants to ensure subsidies go to family farmers. Currently, she said, too much federal farm support is “vacuumed up by a small percentage of enormous farms controlled by large corporations.”
Finkenauer’s campaign rhetoric doesn’t match her voting record in the Iowa Legislature, Rogge said.
“Voters need to look at the record, not boilerplate campaign language written by a D.C. lawyer avoiding the fact that, when she shows up — having missed 76 votes — she’s voted multiple times in the Statehouse against farmers,” Rogge said. Finkenauer voted against a bill to protect animal agriculture that provides 160,000 jobs in Iowa and generates $38 billion annually, Rogge said.
In response, the Finkenauer campaign said she has voted 95 percent of the time while in the Legislature.
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“In comparison, Congressman Blum is supported by the Iowa Farm Bureau, Iowa Corn Growers, Iowa Pork Producers and other ag groups for his record of success,” Rogge said. “He helped pass the Farm Bill in the House, he led a letter to solve the West Coast port slowdown, he continues to communicate to President Trump the importance of E15 and many more.
“Compare that to Ms. Finkenauer’s poor attendance record, skipping economic committee meetings and never passing a single bill,” she said.
In addition to more traditional farm programs, Finkenauer said she wants more mental health resources to help farmers deal with stress. The suicide rate for people working in agriculture is seven times the average, she said.
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