Stabenow: Farm bill passage by Sept. 30 critical
Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., talks with the News-Review editorial board Friday. (Neil Stilwell/News-Review / July 18, 2012)
Stabenow is unopposed for the Democratic primary Aug. 7, but will face the winner of a four-way Republican nominee race between former Congressman Pete Hoekstra, former Grand Rapids judge Randy Hekman, Tea Party-backed Gary Glenn and charter schools founder Clark Durant.
The senator avoided commenting directly on her GOP opponents, despite being the regular target of their campaigns. Though, she did touch on them as a whole.
"It's pretty clear they are similar in vision, in what I view as a choice between going back to policies that didn't work for us or going forward," she said. "I think that is going to continue to be the choice. We saw a decade of tax policies that favored a few people -- millionaires and billionaires -- while everybody else was losing their job and their pensions and moving backwards. The middle class was losing and no one was paying attention to Wall Street, and middle class families are paying the price for that."
She pointed to her position as chairwoman of the Senate Agricultural, Nutrition and Forestry Committee and positions on the budget, finance and energy/natural resources as posts she believes put her in a strong position to help Michigan and a key reason she deserves a third term.
"I have worked hard to position myself so I can be there to help us," she said.
Bolstered by about $7 million in cash on hand for her re-election, according to the latest campaign finance report, her next closest opponent Hoekstra has only about $1.5 million in cash and has had to spend another $1.1 million during his primary bid.
On Asian Carp
Earlier this month, Congress approved the "Stop Invasive Species Act" sponsored by Stabenow and Congressman Dave Camp, R-Midland, requiring the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to submit a progress report to Congress within 90 days and have a full plan for dealing with Asian Carp within the next year and a half.
But, the senator says the process is still not moving fast enough.
"We've always been moving too slow, in my judgement," Stabenow said. "The thinking was always that an electrical barrier in Chicago was an effective way to stop the carp, but now there is a great concern that we have now found -- working with the Army Corps and Environmental Quality folks -- we have now found 17 entry points into the Great Lakes."
Stabenow said her greatest concern is there will be too much attention given to one entry point, while Asian Carp enter the Great Lakes water system elsewhere undetected.
"They have said just (Friday) that they have found Asian Carp DNA in Lake Erie." she said, noting Asian Carp DNA has also been identified in the Maumee River.
"Congressman Camp and I went back to change the bill that originally just dealt with the Chicago Locks...So the second bill we put in, the one that pass, say the Army Corps had to address all 17 of these spots," Stabenow said. "Do I wish they were faster? Absolutely. I wish they wouldn't have had to pass a bill...The good news is now it's all hands on deck."
On Farm bill
The senator has been leading a push as the chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee to get several key reforms in the five-year, sweeping Farm Bill that pays for subsidies for farming. The bill covers hundreds of programs from conservation to food assistance.
The Senate approved about $23 billion is cuts in its version -- eliminating most notably a $15 billion program to pay farmers whether they grow certain crops like corn or cotton or do not.
"We have a series of agricultural subsidies that, frankly, should have been cut a long time ago," Stabenow said. "They were based not on risk, not on loss, but on whether you grew a certain kind of crop and based on how much you planted in the (1980s). We have folks in the South who used to grow cotton -- don't grow it anymore -- and still get paid from the government for growing cotton. People have been complaining about this for years, but nothing has ever happened."
Stabenow said when the deficit reductions came to the Legislature, she suggested the reforms to do what she calls "real" spending reductions.
"We're the only committee that did bipartisan deficit reduction," she added, noting her Republican colleague Sen. Pat Roberts, of Kansas, the ranking GOP member on the committee.
However, the House Agriculture Committee approved its own version last week that replaced some of the cuts and has another reform to eliminate food assistance eligibility for about 300,000 people, something the senator says she plans to fight in comm
Those differences could slow the bill, especially in an election year, as the two chambers would have to reconcile their bills.
The deadline for getting the Farm Bill passed is Sept. 30, when many programs are set to expire. Although there could be temporary extensions for those programs, the senator said it is "absolutely critical" the entire Farm Bill get approved before the deadline.
"If nothing got done, the food authorization programs would stop, the ag policy would go back to a 1948 law that makes no sense," she said. "There could be extensions, that see seems to be the way of the world now, but I think that would be a serious mistake because we would lose the chance to reform."