MANKATO - Republican Allen Quist wants the federal Farm Bill revised, a step he said is personally inconvenient but necessary for the long-term stability of the nation.
The former state lawmaker and challenger to Congressman Tim Walz, D-Minn., said Wednesday that passing the current Farm Bill is financially irresponsible.
"The biggest problem with the bill is its unacceptable level of spending," he said. "Half a trillion dollars over the next five years - spending that balloons our national debt."
According to Quist, a farmer himself, the problem with the bill is not the provision it makes for agriculture; it is the provision for food assistance benefits.
"I don't think that main problem with this bill is how it treats farmer," he said. "I believe the public has a right to know that 80 percent for the spending in the bill is for food stamps, not conservation programs or farm programs."
He cautioned that his objection to the nutrition program is not a condemnation of people who need nutritional support, but of the mismanagement of the program that has caused it to grow out of control. He said the federal government should cede control of the food stamp program to the states, allowing them to manage it, with incentives to bring fewer people into the program.
Quist believes tying food support and farm support together in one bill makes it difficult to evaluate either effectively, and produces a conflict for lawmakers attempting to manage the debt.
"I think everything needs to be laid out on the table," he said.
Quist said not passing the current bill in favor of one that separates nutritional benefits and benefits for farms would not harm agricultural producers, as long as the government passes a disaster relief bill to deal with drought losses.
"Other than disaster relief," he said, "there is nothing in this bill that can't wait until February or March. ... It is difficult to go back and change bills you already passed."
The Walz camp disagrees, and has called for a push to get the bill passed as quickly as possible.
"Congress needs to get its chores done," Walz said. "The five-year Farm Bill is ready to go and will give rural America the peace of mind and certainty they need to plan for the future."
Walz's campaign manager, Sara Severs, said Quist's objection to the bill will hurt farmers.
"Representative Quist's call for more delay and gridlock in Washington is bad for southern Minnesota farmers," she said. "This farm ball is a bipartisan proposal with broad support from Republicans, Democrats and farmers. Members of both parties on the House Agriculture Committee came together to pass a compromise bill that cuts both nutrition programs and eliminates direct payments to farmers in favor of crop insurance to save taxpayer dollars."