INDIANAPOLIS — Congress' failure to pass a farm bill became a top talking point for Indiana candidates this week as Hoosier farmers continue to suffer through the worst drought in decades.
Republican Senate candidate Richard Mourdock chastised federal lawmakers Thursday for not approving more federal aid for farmers before they left on their August recess.
Meanwhile, Democratic gubernatorial John Gregg criticized his Republican opponent, U.S. Rep. Mike Pence, for not doing more on farmers' behalf.
"He needs to get back out to Washington, D.C., and provide some relief for the farmers and small communities rather than spending the next five weeks here in Indiana campaigning for governor," Gregg said Thursday. "He's got a job, he needs to finish that one before he starts this one."
The two congressmen running at the top of the ticket in this election cycle, Pence and U.S. Rep. Joe Donnelly, who is running against Mourdock, both voted in favor of temporary drought relief earlier this month.
That legislation also stalled amid a standoff between chambers in Congress.
The House approved a one-year, $383 million in disaster relief plan, but Congress went home before the Senate acted on the bill. The Senate had previously passed a disaster aid package as part of a five-year farm bill, but GOP leaders in the House refused to bring that to a vote because they worried many Republicans would object to the nearly $80 billion included in the bill for the food stamp program. That means no aid is likely to be approved until Congress returns in early September.
Donnelly has called on others in Congress to end the recess to work on the farm bill. Pence spokeswoman Christy Denault said the congressman supported Indiana farmers with his Aug. 2 vote in favor of the emergency drought relief.
But election year rhetoric aside, Indiana Farm Bureau President Don Villwock said it's hard to make a definitive statement that Hoosier farmers need a farm bill passed immediately. Unlike states in the Great Plains, which have benefitted from aid for cattle producers and crops not largely grown in Indiana, Hoosier farmers would not get much additional assistance from a farm bill, he said.
"In that regard, the relief is not as critical to our producers," he said.
The farm bill is important for Hoosiers in another way, however: it would allow them to secure crop insurance in 2013.
Indiana's candidates for lieutenant governor debated agriculture issues Wednesday, scrapping in part on the farm bill. After Democratic candidate Vi Simpson argued that Congress should return immediately to approve a farm bill, Libertarian Brad Klopfenstein hit back saying it should be called a "food stamp bill" because of the millions of dollars it includes for that program.
The farm bill has long existed as a compromise between urban lawmakers who represent food stamp recipients and rural lawmakers representing farmers, but the food assistance has grown increasingly over the decades to where it dwarves the farm aid in the measure, Villwock said.
In the past, lawmakers approved it the measure based more on regional interest than partisan divides. This is the first time partisanship has blocked the farm bill, he said.