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Legislators greet crowds at fair

A little drizzle of rain couldn't keep the congressional delegation of Kansas from their constituents at the 2009 Kansas State Fair Sept. 12.

Sen. Sam Brownback, R-KS, Rep. Jerry Moran, R-KS, and Rep. Todd Tiahrt, R-KS, stopped by the AT&T Arena at the state fairgrounds in Hutchinson, Kan., for the annual WIBW Radio Issues Forum. Earlier that morning, the trio had also attended the annual Kansas Farm Bureau Ag Leadership Breakfast.

The hot topics of the day were climate change legislation, fiscal responsibility, and the current health care reform debate before Congress.

Climate change

The climate change legislation that passed the U.S. House of Representatives led the discussions at the breakfast and the issues forum, particularly how it will affect farm prices and international trade.

"There has been no more damaging piece of legislation to pass Congress than the cap-and-trade bill," Moran said. "I have it on good authority that the Senate will not pass the bill and that is good news." Moran told the audience that those who argued for involvement of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, rather than the Environmental Protection Agency as a compromise, were fooling themselves.

"I never thought I would see a Secretary of Agriculture speak about pitting hungry children against wealthy farmers," Moran said. If that's the attitude at USDA, how can putting the agency in charge of cap-and-trade ultimately benefit farmers and ranchers, he asked.

"U.S. agriculture feeds the hungry around the world and our farmers and ranchers succeed; people are fed," Moran added. The current bill that passed the House has no benefits to U.S. farmers and ranchers, and instead ties their hands in the global marketplace, he said.

"The idea of increasing the price of fuel and fertilizer in today's economy is ridiculous," Moran said. "Will China and India volunteer to implement these rules as well?

"We will send agricultural business and manufacturing to places where carbon emissions regulation is less, and we won't be reducing carbon dioxide any better." He said if the government wants real environmental efforts to regulate carbon dioxide, then why not do so in a direct way, such as encouraging the use of nuclear power.

Elsewhere on the environmental front, Brownback told the audience he is hopeful to get a Renewable Energy Standard passed in the Senate. "I believe wind energy can benefit our state," he said. "We shouldn't add it to cap-and-trade legislation though, because to do so would kill it. If we can get a Renewable Energy Standard, it will be a good way to grow our economy in Kansas."

Economic growth is important not only to Kansas but to the country as a whole, Brownback continued. "We need to focus on growth through low taxes and low regulations," he said. "Otherwise, people in businesses will move. Countries are poaching on U.S. businesses." Without incentives to stay in Kansas or the United States, Brownback added, businesses will go elsewhere.

"Innovation and investment, that's the way America works best," Brownback said.

Tiahrt said if Washington insiders want to help the environment, they need to do so with sound science and not political science.

Opposing spending

The three Republicans were united in their opposition to increased spending at the federal level. Moran told the audience that he felt Washington, D.C., is underwater and increasing our nation's spending and borrowing will have consequences for future generations.

"It is immoral," he said. "We are mortgaging our children and grandchildren's futures in Washington, and I'm not sure we will ever recover. Something happened in my generation. We'll take care of ourselves, but taking care of our children and grandchildren is less important.

"Farmers know the history of their operations; they know that the decisions they make today will have an effect on their children and grandchildren and beyond," Moran added. "You know that there are long-term consequences to your actions. In D.C., the short view is taken and the next generation isn't considered."

Brownback echoed Moran's thoughts. "We will have a generation bankrupt this country on entitlement programs."

"We face real challenges in Washington today," Tiahrt said. "Elections have consequences, and last year many people voted for a president whom they thought would govern from the center. But, we've seen in the legislation he's supported that he is governing from the hard left and it started with the stimulus bill.

"Now we have about $1 trillion committed to stimulate the economy," he added. "We're trying to grow the economy from the government down and not from the ground up." He warned the audience that we are doomed to repeat the failures of the past, such as policies in place during the Hoover and Roosevelt administrations.

"We should be looking at the 1950s, when we had new opportunities to enter the marketplace and technology became a part of the ag economy, too," Tiahrt said. "The challenges here started with the stimulus bill. We are spending money we don't have on programs we don't need." Tiahrt told the crowd that constant vigilance is needed on the part of rural legislators as they head to Washington, D.C. to work with their colleagues on laws that will affect the future of agriculture.

Healthcare

With the presidential address to the joint Congress fresh in their minds, the three legislators gave their views on healthcare reform to the state fair audience.

"Every time you put more federal government into something, it becomes less efficient," Brownback said. He added that there are ways of bringing the cost of healthcare down, such as allowing citizens to buy insurance across state lines. "We don't need a federal takeover of the healthcare system," Brownback said. "There are modest things we can do that won't drive up cost. We are broke."

"Kansans are thinking about how to pay for what Washington is doing," Moran added. "The solution to our problem is not borrowing more money." He said he would like to see tort reform as a part of any healthcare restructuring. Therefore, doctors will not face outrageous malpractice insurance rules that require them to do unnecessary tests on patients in order to defend themselves in court.

Tiahrt told the crowd he would like to see programs created that would encourage more doctors to return to rural areas to practice, so that rural citizens even have access to healthcare. "I would like us to expand the KU Med Center in Wichita to a four-year program, and move some doctors to rural Kansas," he said. "We also need to help with the expense of getting a medical degree. Most of our doctors graduate with student loans in excess of $250,000. That's starting their careers, at day one, in debt."

Moran said the current plan that's under debate calls for taking money out of Medicare and Medicaid and putting it into a medical trust fund that would pay more in benefits than what it would take in. Moran, whose first district counts 75 hospitals, the largest number in the House, said cutting Medicare and Medicaid would harm 95 percent of the patients in those 75 hospitals.

President Obama told the joint session that by cutting out waste and fraud in the two programs, the savings could fund the medical trust fund; but Brownback asked if that was possible, why not do so and save Medicare and Medicaid?

"We will have to take $450 billion out of Medicare and Medicaid to pay for this new entitlement program," he said. "That's like writing a check on an overdrawn account. The money is not there on a long-term basis and it will not work."

Jennifer M. Latzke can be reached by phone at 620-227-1807, or by e-mail at jlatzke@hpj.com.



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