Both of Wyoming’s U.S. senators addressed the Wyoming Farm Bureau Federation at the group’s annual meeting Thursday and discussed the actions they are pursuing on the federal level to bolster the state’s agriculture.
Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyoming, said his fundamental mission in Congress is to protect the agriculture industry from federal regulations, taxes and mandates that would curb its productivity.
“The [farm] outfits that have been in existence for 100 years have been through everything — storms, floods, fires and all sorts of horrible things,” Barrasso said. “But the biggest threat so often is the feds…You have a congressional delegation who, our job is basically to [speak] to the federal government on behalf of all of you, ‘Leave us alone.’”
Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyoming, echoed that sentiment.
“Your occupation has a lot of uncertainties,” Enzi said.
“Our job is to make sure the federal government is as little of an uncertainty as possible.”
In terms of specific legislation, both senators discussed the status of the farm bill, which would assist farmers through programs like crop subsidies and rural development but is currently stuck in Congress.
Barrasso said the hold-up has nothing to do with the sections of the bill that deal with agriculture. Part of the bill deals with the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which is commonly referred to as food stamps, and Barrasso and several other Republicans are pushing to attach a work requirement to the SNAP program, which Democrats oppose.
“The concern is, now with the Democrats winning the [U.S. House of Representatives]…they’re on the other side of this right now and they’re going to want to not have a work requirement,” Barrasso said.
Barrasso explained that the two issues were rolled into the bill because rural lawmakers likely would not vote to fund the SNAP program on its own, and lawmakers representing urban districts would not support the agricultural funding in the bill. Considering that, he said the agricultural benefits would not be able to pass on their own.
Enzi, though, was more optimistic about the bill. He suggested that some of the Democratic opposition was coming from lawmakers who were up for re-election and would not budge on the bill for fear that it would hurt their campaign. Now that those lawmakers have won re-election, Enzi said he believes they will be more willing to negotiate.
Barrasso also discussed the Endangered Species Act, which he would like to reform in order to give states more control over which species are designated endangered, particularly in light of a federal Montana judge restoring protections on grizzly bears in September while Wyoming was gearing up to let hunters kill up to 23 bears during the first hunting season. He argued that once a species is placed on the endangered species list, it is too difficult to take that species off the list if it recovers its population down the road.
“For every 100 species that have been put on the endangered species list, only three of each 100 have recovered enough to get off the list,” Barrasso said. “If for every 100 people I admitted to the hospital, only three recovered and got out, it would be time for a new doctor.”
The struggle to get species off the list, Barrasso said, hurts counties that need to manage a species that is interfering with their commerce.
Regardless of the individual struggles, both senators said addressing agricultural issues is one of their key priorities in Congress because the industry is crucial to Wyoming’s economic success.