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Thatcher: Mixed congressional records on crop insurance

Members of Congress vary so dramatically in their support of crop insurance that crop and farm groups may want to examine carefully their support for incumbents and congressional candidates, Mary Kay Thatcher, the senior director for congressional relations for the American Farm Bureau Federation, said here late last week.

“Farm subsidies don’t lack for critics,” Thatcher told the Crop Insurance and Reinsurance Bureau in a speech on Thursday. Farm income has gone down, but government payments are going up, she noted.

Thatcher said that five Republican incumbents and Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., whose seat is open in the November election, have not been consistent supporters of crop insurance on the five votes that have come up in the Senate since 2012.

She named the inconsistent five running for re-election as:

-Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H.

-Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis.

-Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill.

-Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio

-Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa.

Thatcher said farm leaders might want to think about “whether someone running against them might be better” and that at the very least an effort should be mounted to “educate” the inconsistent Republicans.

Thatcher also noted Rep. Marlin Stutzman, R-Ind., and a candidate for the Senate in 2016, is a farmer but opposes farm programs.

Examining each Senate candidate’s vote is particularly important, Thatcher said, because the Senate could easily flip to Democratic control in 2016 and back to Republican control in 2018.

Only 15 senators have voted for crop insurance all five times the program has come up for a vote since 2012, Thatcher said, and 14 of those are Republicans:

-Sen. John Barasso, R-Wyo.

-Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo.

-Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark.

-Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss.

-Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho

-Sen. Mike Enzi, R- Wyo.

-Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D.

-Sen. Johnny Isakson, Ga.

-Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

-Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan.

-Sen. James Risch, R-Idaho

-Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan.

-Sen. John Thune, R-S.D.

-Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss.

The only Democrat to vote for crop insurance each time is Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, she said.

“It is problematical that Stabenow is the only Democrat on that list, but she is ranking” on the Senate Agriculture Committee, Thatcher said.

Four Democrats have voted against crop insurance on all five votes, Thatcher said:

-Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J.

-Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I.

-Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev.

-Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.

Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., has voted for crop insurance 40 percent of the time, she said.

Thatcher also noted that 20 more senators have voted favorably on issues that mattered to agriculture, including passage of the highway bill. She suggested that the crop insurance industry might want to get to know these senators better, but said it is still uncertain whether crop insurance has a total of 35 senators who are “solid” supporters of the program.

Crop insurance lobbyists might consider attending fundraisers for some of these “middle of the road” candidates, she said.

On the House side it is sometimes difficult to determine members’ support, she said, because many have been in office a short time and were not present to vote on bills with crop insurance provisions that came up only a few years ago.

But the farm community definitely has a problem with Republican support, Thatcher said, because “the new Freedom Caucus is more to the right than the Republican Study Committee.”

The Freedom Caucus now has 41 members, she noted, and if they do not vote with the Republican leadership the Republicans don’t have control of the House.

Critics are likely to attack crop insurance premium subsidies rather than administrative and operating expenses because there is more money in the premium subsidy account, Thatcher said.

She noted that conservation groups helped “sustain” crop insurance in the December fight, and that she thinks it is vital for the crop insurance industry to maintain its alliance with these groups while doing more to shore up its relationship with nutrition groups that want to keep food stamps in the farm bill.

Heritage Action, the political arm of the Heritage Foundation, scored more votes on the farm bill than on any other subject including abortion, Thatcher said.

Heritage continues to want to split farm programs from the nutrition programs in the belief that the split would make it easier to cut both programs, she said.

The biggest problem for the 2018 farm bill, Thatcher said, will come if conservatives try to take food stamps — formally the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP — out of the farm bill.

–The Hagstrom Report


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