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Bills, Klobuchar disagree on farm bill — and nearly everything else — at Farmfest

MinnPost photo by James Nord
Klobuchar and Bills disagree on most issues, and Bills attempted to play up his outsider political status.

REDWOOD COUNTY, Minn. — In their first joint forum, Republican candidate Kurt Bills voiced his opposition to the $500 billion, five-year farm bill that his opponent, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, helped shape.

Wednesday’s candidate forum at Farmfest here displayed the stark differences between the two U.S. Senate candidates on the role of government and the size of its intervention in the private sector.

Farmfest, which draws 35,000 attendees to the Redwood Falls area, serves as the chief annual forum for agricultural issues in Minnesota.

A panel of agricultural journalists quizzed the candidates — including Glen Menze of the Independence Party — over issues relating to the Midwest drought, renewable energy policies and the effects of federal regulations on farmers, among others.

The farm bill, which is currently stalled in the House, got repeated attention.

Bills said afterward that he would support much more modest legislation that would focus on helping small farmers with crop insurance and loan programs at the expense of large corporations.

“Not for the big guy,” he said, “For the little guy.”

Klobuchar talked about her work on the Senate Agriculture Committee, using it to highlight her experience on agricultural issues. The first-term senator, elected in 2006, tied each of her farm bill answers to work she’d done on specific provisions.

She also underscored the legislation’s roughly $23 billion in cuts over the next decade and noted the bipartisan process that got it through the Senate.

“You need people that not only understand the policy, but are able to pragmatically argue to people about why they need to get things done, and I’ve had that experience,” Klobuchar told reporters after the forum. “I think that I’ve been tested in terms of standing up for rural Minnesota, and that’s why I received support over the years.”

Bills and Klobuchar disagreed on nearly every question.

He touted his “outsider” political status as helpful in putting forward an agenda of steep cuts and harsh deficit reduction. Klobuchar, meanwhile, stressed her record of bipartisanship and the practical need to get things done in Washington.

Case in point: “Not supporting the Senate Farm Bill leaves you with really nothing to move forward on,” Klobuchar said after the forum.

She also took a much milder stance on current and future federal regulations for the agricultural industry. Klobuchar also noted legislation she’s supported to reduce burdensome red tape on such matters as milk spills and child labor laws.

“I really think we need to go even further,” Bills responded, arguing for drastic cuts in the regulatory agencies that oversee farmers to “push back” against the government intervention in the private sector.

Bills also said he would have supported a House measure that offered drought protection and disaster assistance for livestock producers. Klobuchar echoed 7th District Rep. Collin Peterson, the ranking Democrat on the House Agricultural Committee, in calling for a longer-term approach.

“It was a short-term solution to a long-term problem,” she said. “We need to pass an actual farm bill.”

Bills and Klobuchar did manage to agree on the need to end public subsidies for oil companies, but they again diverged on the necessity of federal renewable energy standards.

Klobuchar argued that the standards have aided the country’s shift away from dependence on foreign oil. Bills contended that a free market approach — moving away from mandates and subsidies — would ultimately lead to a more vibrant economy.

“D.C. is booming because of borrowed and printed money,” he said, citing instead the deregulation of agriculture in New Zealand. “We want our economy to boom because of agriculture.”

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Comments (3)

Yeah, right

"Klobuchar, meanwhile, stressed her record of bipartisanship and the practical need to get things done in Washington."

She has a 93% record of voting strict party line. That's even more partisan than Michele Bachmann.

"Little guy" farmers?

Mr. Econ 101 - there are big farmers and corporate farmers.

Klobuchar knows FarmFest

According to the Star Tribune, Klobuchar spent much of the day at the event, visiting tents and talking with farmers. Bills bought a pork chop on a stick and left soon after the debate. Which candidate do you think the attendees will remember in November?