By Tim Alexander
DECATUR, Ill. – U.S. Reps. Cheri Bustos (D-Ill.) and Rodney Davis (R-Ill.) joined farm broadcasters Max Armstrong and Mike Pearson during the first day of the 2021 Farm Progress Show (FPS) for separate interviews on current priorities of the House Committee on Agriculture.
Among the topics of discussion was the Biden administration’s bipartisan $1 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which is scheduled for a vote in the House on Sept. 27.
“I can’t say it with certainty, but my thought is that we will be voting on that bill as it was sent over from the Senate without any changes,” Bustos predicted during the wide-ranging, half-hour interview recorded for broadcast in the FPS’ Prairie Farmer Hospitality Building. “I think we will pass that (bill) on Sept. 27.”
Not as easy for Bustos to predict is the fate of Biden’s proposed reconciliation bill, which the Illinois lawmaker said is poorly named. “I don’t think many people really understand the ins and outs of what reconciliation means,” she said of the proposed legislation, which is closely entwined with Biden’s infrastructure package. “We’re calling it the Build Back Better Act. It will be big in nature and there will be tens of millions of dollars specific to agriculture.”
The Build Back Better Act, estimated at $3.5 trillion, would provide $225 million for climate resilience and restoration, along with $100 million for mitigating climate-induced weather events. It would also provide $2.7 billion for overdue Indian water rights settlements, $2.5 billion to clean up abandoned hardrock mines and redevelop them for productive use, $2 billion for health facility construction, maintenance and improvement in Indian Country, $993 million for hospitals and health infrastructure in U.S. territories, and $500 million for tribal housing improvements.
It also would raise billions of dollars in fossil fuel industry fees and provide for technical assistance and capacity building in local communities to plan for climate change impacts, according to the House Natural Resources Committee.
Proponents of the Build Back Better Act have pointed to its potential to create millions of jobs, reduce unemployment and increase national economic output. However, potential roadblocks to the bill’s passage loom in both the House and the Senate.
Bustos told Armstrong she spent most of the August recess on her annual “21st Century Heartland Tour” visiting family farms located in all 14 counties comprising her 17th congressional district. “The number one issue I am hearing about is stepped-up basis. Here’s what I can tell you about that: I think our family farms are going to be OK. We had language that came out of the Senate that made sure there would be a carve-out for family farms and small businesses, so that they would not be subject to the repeal of stepped-up basis,” she said. “If you are making under $400,000 per year, you will even get a tax break.”
The proposed 10-year Build Back Better Act would be funded largely on the backs of large corporations through tax levies, Bustos said. The Moline-based lawmaker also chimed in on renewable fuels issues, lamenting the large number of “small” refinery waivers issued to ethanol companies by the Trump-led EPA.
“My solution is that I just introduced legislation called the Next Generation Fuel Act calling for vehicle manufacturers to manufacture cars that burn ethanol at the E20 level in the first five years and an E30 level within 10 years. It also calls for service stations to be able to adapt their pumps to deliver E20 and E30,” Bustos said. “As we move to electric vehicles we want to make sure ethanol is a part of that.”
After a short break, Davis took the microphone to voice his support for Bustos’ Next Generation Fuels Act, while expressing amazement that for several years Congress has been unable to compel a sitting U.S. president to follow the law when it comes to adherence to the Renewable Fuels Standard.
“We have opportunities to grow ethanol’s profile, but I am afraid that (won’t happen) because of the current polarization in Washington right now and with who is really pulling the strings with the Democratic majority and the Biden administration. Their focus is on electrifying the entire fleet we have in the USA versus trying to find a balanced and clear-burning fuel approach,” said Davis, who represents the 14-county 13th District of Illinois.
Davis lauded advances made in rural broadband access during the Trump administration, while encouraging future federal incentivizing of rural broadband providers to expand their service areas further into farm country. He also expressed support for language providing for major funding of broadband expansion within Bidens’ infrastructure package – with a caveat.
“My biggest fear is that the far left of the Democrats have said they won’t vote for a standalone infrastructure package without a $3.5 trillion reconciliation package that will break our family farms when we try to hand them down from generation to generation,” said Davis, who hails from Taylorville (pop. 11,000).
Davis expressed dismay at the recent overturning of the Trump EPA’s revision of the Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) rule under the Clean Waters Act by a federal court.
“It amazes me that I have to fight people in concrete buildings in Washington, D.C., that want to legislate the drainage swell between my neighbor’s house and mine,” he said. “We’ve got to come together because we need common sense on both sides of the aisle. The ag industry has been doing a great job through existing programs to positively impact (water quality). We don’t need the federal government having a large imprint on how we operate.”
Armstrong asked Davis what he might offer to those who feel let down, discommunicated or distrustful of lawmakers due to the extended political polarization gripping Capitol Hill.
“Based on what I see, the social media cesspool we all see, I don’t blame you for being frustrated. I’m frustrated and shake my head sometimes at what Washington is doing and what they aren’t doing,” Davis said. “But I will tell you that there are people in Washington on both sides of the aisle who are not turning a blind eye to the nation’s problems that need to be addressed. And the area I have seen since I have been a member of Congress that has been the most bipartisan is agriculture.”
The Aug. 31 interview can be seen on Armstrong’s This Week in Agribusiness program.