Two longtime U.S. Congressmen made their cases for re-election to Iowa's 3rd District Monday, offering contrasting views on how to feed the nation’s hungry.
Current 3rd District incumbent U.S. Rep. Leonard Boswell is locked in a tight re-election campaign against U.S. Rep. Tom Latham, who currently represents Iowa’s old 4th District. Redistricting put Latham in the same district as another Iowa Republican congressman, 5th District U.S. Rep. Steve King, so Latham moved to the 3rd District to challenge Boswell.
Both Latham and Boswell are popular, both have an agricultural background, and both have a long tenure in Congress. The race is almost sure to be contentious. It’s one of only two in the country in which redistricting pits a pair of incumbents against one another.
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Young professionals' groups with the West Des Moines Chamber of Commerc and the Urbandale Commerce were joined by Homebuilders of Iowa in sponsoring the forum, which was held at the West Des Moines Sheraton.
One of the sharpest disagreements of the morning came over proposed cuts to the Farm Bill that Sherrie Taha of Des Moines said would make it more difficult for hungry Iowans – many of them in single-parent households headed by women, she said – to find enough to eat. Taha said that of the 20 percent of Iowans who are living at 150 percent of poverty guidelines, 70 percent are female heads of households.
House Republicans want to cut nearly $16 billion over 10 years – $2 billion more than for farm subsidies and nearly half of all savings in the bill, Reuters reported – mostly by changing eligibility rules. If the cuts are enacted, they would be the largest since 1996 when $27 billion in deficit-reduction measures were enacted.
The GOP wants to restrict enrollment among people with high child-care and housing expenses whose incomes are higher than the poverty line. Democrats argue the cuts would force 3 million out of the program, mostly America’s working poor and elderly.
“How can you justify half of the cuts occurring in the Farm Bill that are attributed to food stamps when the need is so dramatic?” Taha drilled Latham. “How can you justify a cap of $1 million for individual farmers, rather than a quarter of a million dollars, when we have a need for something as basic as daily bread?”
Latham said he doesn’t want to do away with the SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program more commonly known as the food-stamp program. Some 46 million Americans currently receive SNAP benefits. Latham said that figure is artificially high because enrollment changes made as part of President Obama’s economic stimulus bill automatically included all Americans who are receiving Medicaid benefits.
About 80 percent of 5-year, $491 billion Farm Bill appropriations are for SNAP benefits and Latham said he wants to “get back to pre-stimulus eligibility.”
“No one is saying ‘do away with it,’” Latham said. “We have got to make sure a safety net is available to everyone. There are real needs like this, but the fact is that dramatic increases in eligibility … are not sustainable.”
Boswell, who serves on the House Agriculture Committee, said Congress should think carefully before removing the safety net. He voted for the Farm Bill after backing an ultimately unsuccessful effort to restore $16 million in cuts to the food stamp program, money he said would ultimately benefit farmers because that food stamp assistance is used to purchase food produced by farmers, he said.
“That’s not resolved,” Boswell said. “We may want to think more about that.”