Other Voices: Farm bill spotlight on Kristi Noem

Farm Forum

It’s crunch time for Rep. Kristi Noem.

The South Dakota Republican is on the conference committee trying to hammer out a compromise farm bill. That’s a difficult balancing act, given the Senate and House versions of the bill are billions of dollars apart.

In addition to agriculture policy and nutrition programs, the farm bill has included disaster assistance provisions providing payments to farmers of up to $100,000 for losses such as those incurred recently by many West River South Dakota ranchers. If those provisions are renewed under the new farm bill, they could be of great help to South Dakotans hit hard by the October blizzard.

Noem says she will work to find middle ground between the House and Senate bills in trying to forge a deal. It will take some serious give and take to come up with a compromise. And if her recent activity is any indication, Noem is not necessarily one to champion compromise.

She voted against the bipartisan plan that temporarily reopened the government and helped avoid a debt default after the recent shutdown.

That plan didn’t go far enough in reducing deficits, she said. Yet it certainly went far enough for ranchers rocked by livestock losses and looking for answers and possible assistance.

Noem had criticized the federal government during the shutdown for refusing to open Farm Service Agency offices in order to assist those same ranchers.

She also might have trouble trying to persuade her colleagues to reauthorize disaster assistance in the new farm bill because she voted against providing assistance to victims of Hurricane Sandy.

The politics of this situation are complex, for sure.

Noem didn’t vote with her own party leadership to open the government, opting instead to join tea party conservatives. Was she trying to protect herself from a primary challenge? Maybe. But siding with tea party members in this case also might prove costly.

Conservatives who might have applauded her no vote on the government reopening measure still could oppose her efforts to pass a farm bill, something they consider a public welfare program.

So there’s real work to be done here. For Noem to take advantage of her seat on the farm bill conference committee, she will need to be willing to compromise. We urge her to abandon the canned rhetoric and party line talking points in this debate.

With only one vote in Congress, South Dakotans expect their elected representatives to be skilled at working with other lawmakers and building coalitions to accomplish goals.

The time is now for Noem to prove she can do the job. It’s great for South Dakota to be represented on the farm bill conference committee, but only if it results in action for the state’s farmers and ranchers.

— Sioux Falls Argus Leader