Noem: Time for bipartisanshipChange is coming to DC, congresswoman says, but slowly.
By: Ross Dolan, The Daily Republic
Rep. Kristi Noem bemoaned the lack of bipartisan cooperation in Washington during a stop in Mitchell Wednesday.
“They’ve got to decide that the future of their country is more important than the future of their political careers,” she told a group of about 40 telecommunications professionals in a company meeting room at Vantage Point Solutions, 2211 N. Minnesota St.
En route to a Friday debate in Rapid City with Democratic challenger Matt Varilek, Noem took time to tour Vantage Point’s corporate offices. The tour was conducted by CEO Larry Thompson.
Noem said she missed the freedom and sense of purpose she had as a member of the South Dakota Legislature.
She told her audience that her best day in Washington was “marking up the farm bill in ag committee” with her fellow legislators.
“That was a fun day because we were really legislating,” Noem said.
She decried the lack of progress on a new farm bill and said it has been a major issue for drought-impacted South Dakotans. Farmers and ranchers are forced to plan for the coming year without knowing what new farm policies may be, she said.
The bill has passed the Senate and the House Agriculture Committee, on which Noem serves, but no vote has been scheduled in the full House. The former farm bill expired Sept. 30.
In the proposed new bill, producers will give up direct payments but will get better crop insurance support, Noem said, but livestock producers also need a safety net.
“They don’t have a crop insurance program to participate in,” she said.
Noem said the old order and system of operation is changing in Washington, but it is happening very slowly. Members now get more input into how bills are created and moved ahead.
Still, many bills never see the light of day or are debated, she said.
“In Washington, you can have a good idea, but it may never be scheduled for a hearing,” Noem said. “The House can pass bills all day long, but the Senate may never see them. It’s easier to ignore a bill than to schedule and vote on it.”
Noem said a sense of bipartisanship is needed. She said she has made it a practice to seek Democratic support before she introduces a bill.
“I think that kind of bipartisan work record will resonate with a lot of people,” she said.
Varilek’s campaign manager, David Benson, said Noem’s call for bipartisanship rings hollow.
“As the leader of the House freshman class of tea partiers who have brought the dysfunction in Washington, D.C., to new heights, Congresswoman Noem’s statement about partisanship is like the pot calling the kettle black,” Benson said in an email to The Daily Republic seeking a response to Noem’s assertions.
“The partisanship and gridlock we’ve seen in Washington alone is troubling, but Congresswoman Noem’s ‘my way or the highway’ approach and lack of attendance at committee meetings have made it even harder to make progress on a series of priorities for South Dakota,” he said. “It’s that very dysfunction and approach that has led to a failure on a host of issues like the farm bill, the production tax credit for wind energy, and tax reform for middle class families and small businesses.”
During the meeting in Mitchell, Thompson expressed concern that funding for the Rural Utilities Service is in jeopardy. The RUS provides subsidies that are crucial for the expansion of rural telecommunication infrastructure, he said.
“If rural customers had to pay for their entire phone bill without the subsidies, they couldn’t afford it.” Thompson said.
“Right now, a lot of those subsidies are under attack by the Federal Communications Commission, and we’re seeing those declines year after year,” he said.
That decline threatens the expansion of broadband capabilities to rural communities, Thompson said. His concern was seconded by Santel Communications General Manager Ryan Thompson, who also attended the meeting.
Noem said that rural electric companies, which also depend on the RUS, are worried that the cutbacks could extend to their services, Noem said.
“There’s a lot of uncertainty right now,” she said.
It’s the job of lawmakers like herself to explain “how the RUS is being utilized and the duty all these telecoms have to provide services to people who live far apart in rural areas. We have to continue to remind people about what the (RUS) initiative meant at the time it was set.”
She expressed concern that rural congressional membership is sliding in Washington.
“We’re losing members from rural areas,” she said.
The urban-based professionals in D.C. often have little understanding of the issues associated with life in other areas of the country, Noem said.
She said the government has, in some cases, overstepped its bounds with regulations that affect people.
Noem questioned the role of government in dictating the menus of school lunch programs, but said the proposed reduction to the food support program outlined by the House Ag Committee were common-sense reforms.
“The reforms said we’re not going to allow states to receive bonuses for signing people up for food stamps any more, and we’re not going to have any loopholes that qualifies people (for stamps),” she said. “The program’s integrity needs to be protected.”
Noem advised the crowd at Vantage Point to participate in government and to never underestimate the power of telling their personal stories. “The people who make their positions known really do make a difference,” she said.
Noem said her campaign is “in the countdown.”
After leaving Mitchell, Noem made a brief stop in Winner before continuing on to Rapid City to prepare for the debate against Varilek. The debate’s hot topics will be “taxes, regulation and what the vision is for this country,” Noem predicted.
“A lot of people during these debates should be asking what the role of the federal government should be in their lives,” she said.
Friday’s debate, sponsored by the Rapid City Journal, will be the third of the campaign between the two candidates.
They met at Dakotafest in Mitchell on Aug. 22, and made a joint appearance at the Sioux Falls Argus Leader on Sept. 24. After Friday’s debate, they will meet on South Dakota Public TV on Oct. 18 and before the KELO cameras on Nov. 2, four days before the election.
Varilek has sought more debates, but Noem has rejected some offers, including one at the South Dakota State Fair.