MANKATO - Allen Quist, the Republican candidate in Minnesota's 1st Congressional race, made a bold move Wednesday by hosting a press conference in Mankato to underscore his opposition to the proposed federal Farm Bill. With the large amount of agriculture in the district and his DFL opponent U.S Rep. Tim Walz strongly supporting the bill, Quist's declaration draws a stark contrast between him and Walz.
Quist focused his opposition to the Farm Bill on two factors: First, he claimed that because 80 percent of the Farm Bill cost is related to food stamps programs, it negates the right to claim the farm title. He said that he considered it inappropriate to have a vote on what he considers wo separate issues in the same bill. Second, he said he opposes the approximately $500 billion the proposed Farm Bill would add to the national debt. He further specified that he took issue with the food stamp portion of the bill raising from approximately $30 billion in 2007 to approximately $80 billion per year in the proposed bill.
"We should be focused on getting people off of food stamps, not running a model that inherently lends itself to increase the people on it," said Quist.
Quist's criticisms are interesting, given the recent public efforts by farm organizations to push for the passage of the Farm Bill. Walz, the right-leaning Minnesota Farm Bureau and the left-leaning Minnesota Farmers Union have made a concentrated effort in recent weeks to publicly advocate for the bill's passage. The Farm Bill has already passed in the U.S. Senate, but it has been held up from a floor vote in the U.S. House of Representatives. The five-year bill will expire on Sept. 30 if new legislation is not passed.
Quist argued that the situation is not as dire as others have made it out to be. He said the only part of the bill that truly needs passage this year was the disaster relief portions, which he argued could be passed on their own. He said that the rest of the bill could be worked on next year. He said that the danger of adding to the federal debt represented an overwhelmingly bigger danger to farmers than any potential, temporary problems that could arise from delaying the passage of the Farm Bill.
Quist argued that the only way to deal with his criticisms would be to send the bill back to the House Agricultural Committee, where it would be made into two separate bills: one for the agricultural elements and one for the food stamps. He said that it is essential that each portion be judged and funded on their own merits. He said that passing the two portions together only ensure overspending. He believes his proposal would likely succeed in passage as separate bills.
In a prior interview, Walz argued that the agricultural and food stamp portions of the Farm Bill have historically been passed together as a way to unite the dramatically different living conditions and values of legislators from big cities and from rural areas. This bipartisan approach usually passes.
Wednesday's press conference will be last time Quist puts a heavy focus on the Farm Bill, he said. He also admitted that his debt criticisms and demand for bill portions to be passed on their individual merits could be applied to nearly any bill.
"[The Farm Bill] is the one before all of us at this time. It's the one that is now at issue," said Quist.
He plans to host future press conference on other issues, but he has not identified the subjects. He also plans to start emphasizing what he calls his successful financial and business experience.
(Josh Moniz can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org)