An avid hunter, 4-H leader and rancher, Congresswoman Kristi Noem (R, SD) knows farming from real life experience. And she's one of a dwindling number of Representatives who hail from a farm background.
But like everything else in politics these days, her journey to Capitol Hill was not without controversy. Before her 2010 election victory, the farm wife and mother of three was outed for numerous speeding tickets. She's been skewered by the liberal media for her pro-gun, conservative views. But she unseated a popular incumbent democrat and has so far made a name for herself as fiscal hawk and rising GOP leader. We caught up with her to talk about crop insurance, the farm bill and life on Capitol Hill. The full Q and A appears in our May/June issue.
Farm Futures: Much was said about sequester spending cuts earlier this year. In a hearing shortly after the cuts went into effect, you got into a pointed discussion with the secretary of agriculture about the flexibility USDA could use in where the agency would cut spending.
Noem: We have to look at the facts. This is a 2.2% cut to federal spending. If we can't do that, then we are a country that has completely lost sight of our priorities. There's a lot of concern that the administration is playing politics with sequester and making it as painful as possible to the public in order to avoid future cuts that don't agree with their agenda. I believe the administration wants it to be painful and wants to use it politically. So we have to do all we can with that kind of agenda.
It would be good to come back to the table and still reduce spending, but in a smarter way. USDA is saying this year crop insurance is not going to be effected. Disaster payments are likely to be reduced. Food stamps, which the House came in to reform, is not going to be changed – it was protected by sequester. Those reforms are lost until we can get a Farm Bill done.
FF: USDA said sequester will force the agency to cut payments to some farmers.
Noem: The majority of payments that will be impacted won't go to producers until next year. So we hope that we can go back in through the Farm Bill and make more targeted cuts in that process.
For me, as a producer for so many years, you do your budget for the next year as soon as you get your harvest in. You have to make crop insurance decisions early. You have to contract your fuel and seed reps early. There are big decisions producers have to look at even though they are not sure what the federal government is going to do.
FF: What happened to the Farm Bill last year?
Noem: The last farm bill got caught up in politics. We reformed food stamps to make sure payments only went to people who needed the help, which caused the Democrats outside the Ag Committee to walk away, and that makes it hard to pass. Anybody who cares about the food stamp program should care about reforming it, because it needs to have integrity. If we allow loopholes and people who don't qualify, the program will build a bad reputation, and soon the argument will be made to eliminate it. So it needs to be made more defensible.
FF: Some farm groups praised the Obama administration for the selection of Gina McCarthy as new EPA administrator. Your thoughts?
Noem: I believe Lisa Jackson was the most anti Ag administrator we ever had and now her second in command is going to head up the EPA? Her agenda appears to reflect what went on previously, so I'm very concerned. I went after them on dust regulations and will stay on top of that. This administration has tried to go for some kind of carbon tax. They would put us out of business. These are issues I am willing to go to war on.