2016 First Congressional District Questionnaire

Posted on May 11, 2016

Candidates for the 1st District Congressional race responded to policy questions on KFB Priority Issues. Not all candidates responded prior to the publication deadline. Another questionnaire from the primary-winning candidates will be published prior to the November General Election.

Environmental Issues

Complying with environmental regulations is something farmers face daily whether it is in their livestock operations or crop production practices involving pesticides or fertilizers.  Federal regulations must be based on sound science and not create undue financial burdens on typical farming operations. 

Of particular concern is the effort to redefine waters of the United States under the Clean Water Act.  Currently the Clean Water Act regulates truly navigable waters and streams with both permanent and seasonal flows, but removing the word ‘navigable’ from the definition of waters of the U.S. would open the door to the broadest possible interpretation of the law.  This could significantly impede common agricultural practices, impose additional unfunded mandates on state and local governments, and limit some uses of private property.

1. What steps would you take to assure that all Federal regulations affecting production agriculture are based on sound science and cost benefit analysis?

Gaskins: I would look into the science myself as well as the cost and weigh the two before making any judgments.

Comer: Federal agencies need to seek more input from those on the receiving end of their regulations, including organizations like the Farm Bureau and other farmers. I would also support a bill that the House has already passed, the REINS Act, which would require any regulation with an economic impact of $100 million or more to be approved by Congress.

Batts: I support strict congressional oversight of all federal agencies.  This can be accomplished by reducing or eliminating the budget of federal agencies, like the EPA.  Rules and regulations that change the way farmers and others in production agriculture normally do business should be approved by Congress.

Pape: I would have an independent review panel of each federal regulation, I
would have Congress use its oversight authority to determine if these
rules are following the original intent of the law. 

2. What impact do you see occurring if the term “navigable” is removed from the definition of “waters of the U.S.”?  Would you support such legislation or any regulation that would redefine 'Waters of the US?'

Batts: The EPA and Army Corps of Engineers continue to overreach the authority granted to them by Congress.  I support returning responsibility for waters and streams to the states.  Allowing a broader definition of the term “navigable” or eliminating the term all together will only embolden the agencies.

Pape: The impact would be terrible if they removed navigable from the definition of “waters of the U.S.” It would mean that the Corp of Engineers would have jurisdiction over any area where two drops of water meet, including but not limited to your kitchen sink. I strongly support legislation that Senator Paul has put forward that defines navigable waters as any area in which a canoe can navigate. I will always protect farms and their lands.

Gaskins: Removing it could bring the EPA into regulating irrigation ditches.

Comer: I would oppose any effort, including redefining WOTUS, that allows the EPA to have even more regulatory power over our farming operations. This could open the door for additional regulations on farm ponds, something that could further impede basic farming operations and amount to an unfunded mandate on the private sector.

3. What efforts would you recommend to make sure the environment is protected but regulations do not create an undue economic burden relative to the Clean Water Act? 

Gaskins: First, I would make sure the right people are held accountable. Second, I would help offset any cost to farmers for needed changes.

Comer: We need to put less power in the hands of executive branch regulators, and more trust in our farmers and new technologies. Farmers have a unique ability to adapt to new and emerging challenges on their own, so instead of regulating them, we should encourage them to use new technologies in relation to irrigation and water storage.

Batts: Agencies like the EPA are overstepping their authority and have promulgated increasingly burdensome regulations.  Strict congressional oversight of the EPA will help ensure the regulations coming out of the EPA do not create additional burden on farmers.

Pape: Conservation programs work well for farmers to help build waterways and contain animal waste. Currently, we need to continue these efforts and never add any regulations that can prevent farmers from their day-to-day operations.

4. What can be done to minimize the impact recently announced Clean Air Act rules will have on agriculture? 

Pape: We must have a Congress that will cut the funding of the EPA, to prevent them from carrying out their administrative rule making and their ability to challenge any rules in the court system. We must use Congressional oversight to role back the rule making of the EPA, because it was not in the original intent of Congress and the Clean Air Act.

Gaskins: I will have to study that more to see all of the burdens placed on farmers.

Comer: Regulations on climate, including cap and trade provisions and the Clean Air Act, significantly affect common agricultural and energy practices, and should be subject to strict legislative oversight. Bills like the REINS Act could go a long way in providing additional review on executive regulations such as these that are, on their face, unconstitutional executive overreach.

Batts: Agencies continue to overreach into areas that are not part of the original authority granted to them by Congress.  Strict congressional oversight of agencies, like the EPA, and reductions in funding will ensure rules and regulations have minimal impact on farmers. 

 

National Farm Policy

A strong agricultural base is essential to any nation’s long-term success and security.  Farmers in the United States produce the world’s safest, most abundant and most economical supply of food and fiber.  Agriculture also plays a significant role in the production of renewable energy.

1. How would you further strengthen national farm policy to protect our nation’s safe and nutritious food supply by ensuring American agriculture remains a viable industry?

Comer: In order to keep agriculture viable in America, policymakers are going to have to do things that farmers know and do well: innovate in their thinking. Like I did in initiating a robust Hemp program in Kentucky, Ag leaders in government need to constantly be searching for new crops and new farming methods to improve the industry.

Batts: A strong food supply is vital to our nation.  I support reducing the regulatory burden on farmers.  This would allow farmers to take advantage of the market and rely less on the government. I would be a strong advocate for farmers and rural society.

Pape: I would work to make sure that we have safe measures in place to protect family farms by having a strong crop insurance program and in supporting agriculture research and extension services as carried out in this state by universities in this state. 

2. In what ways should revenue assurance and crop insurance programs play a more significant role in national farm policy?

Batts: Crop insurance provides a safety net for farmers in the event of devastating crop failure.  The crop insurance program was meant to be a safety net but some are getting rich off the program. I support reforming the crop insurance program to increase efficiency and effectiveness.

Pape: These programs are essential to the viability of agriculture and they must
continue to be vital components of future farm bills. 

Gaskins: The programs need to be controlled so the fraud and waste do no endanger the viability of the program.

Comer: Assistance from the federal government for farmers is necessary in some circumstances, but also needs to be somewhat scaled back in some cases, with an eye on preventing fraud. While belt tightening is a necessity in this era of budget deficits, programs like crop assurance are still needed to provide a basic safety net for farmers.

3. How would you support young and beginning farmers in future farm policy?

Pape: I would have a young farmer advisory council in my congressional office to promote agriculture among beginning farmers.

Gaskins: I would support legislation to help new farmers be able to afford starting farming operations through government grants and loan services.

Comer: We need to encourage more young people to go into farming by pushing it as a viable and rewarding occupation. This includes stressing the importance of farming, furthering agricultural education in our schools, and pitching farming as something that it is not often considered: a small business.

Batts: Young and beginning farmers should be given every opportunity that any other farmer would be given. Young family farmers should not have to worry about over burdensome taxes and the death tax.  I support repealing the death tax and reforming the tax system.  

Trade

Kentucky has a very diverse, and robust, agricultural industry.  Cash receipts for agriculture in Kentucky for 2015 totaled over $6 billion.  Since 2001, farmers have made extensive investment to enhance their production, but now increased market access is needed to increase net farm income for Kentucky farmers.  The World Trade Organization (WTO) and free trade agreements (FTA’s) affect how U.S. farmers compete on the world market, and uniform international phytosanitary guidelines are critical to trade.  

We strongly believe in fair and open world trade. We also believe that crops produced with biotech traits are safe and important to meeting the rising world demand for food. As new traits are developed, they should be closely tested with the use of sound science. When approved, these new food products should be aggressively supported through domestic and foreign trade policy.

1. How can future FTA’s be developed to enhance market opportunities for Kentucky and U.S. farmers?

Gaskins: This has to be done by making sure all imported products meet the same standards as products grown here.

Comer: Any trade agreement that is negotiated needs to have agricultural considerations at the forefront. In order to increase the viability of farming in America, we are going to have to continue increasing the export of our commodities, including livestock, tobacco, and grain. Eliminating any trade barriers to these products is essential.

Batts: I support fair trade agreements that treat our farmers and other producers here in the First District equally with international farmers and producers.

Pape: Agriculture must have a seat at the table when negotiation FTA’s. I will work tirelessly to ensure that farmers and the agriculture community are well represented during these negotiations.

2. What market policies should be in place to ensure U.S. farmers can participate in fair and open world trade?

Batts: Farmers here in the U.S. should be on a level playing field with those producers outside of the U.S.  I support holding agricultural imports to the same standards as we hold our domestically produced goods.

Pape: I agree with the Farm Bureau’s stance that all efforts must be made to open new markets for American farmers. All imported products must receive the same scrutiny as do products from U.S. agriculture. Any products that do not meet the same rigorous standard set for domestic products should not be permitted entry. 

Gaskins: Same response as the last question.  The standards have to be equal.

Comer: In order to open up new markets for American farmers, the federal government needs to continue seeking out new trade opportunities with other countries. While global trade agreements need to be closely monitored to ensure fairness for American farmers and workers, there is no doubt that increasing farm exports is a positive for our farmers.

3. What are your views on how foods containing GMO crops should be labeled for the domestic market and treated in international trade agreements?

Pape: There should be uniformity between labeling, domestic markets, and
international trade agreements. I am most concerned about the products
that come into our country, than our own GMO crops.

Gaskins: Printing three letters will not hurt the farmer’s bottom line.  People have a right to know what they are putting in their body.

Comer: We need to tread carefully on new mandates as to how farmers should label their products. This is not the right course of action at the moment, as there have been no studies describing GMO crops as detrimental to human health in any way, and they are needed if we are going to feed an ever-growing population.

Batts: The government should not force growers and manufacturers to label their goods as containing GMOs.  This is another example of government overreach.  If a manufacturer or producer wants to label their product as containing GMO ingredients that should be left up to them. 

Farm Labor

Farmers routinely face a shortage of workers to perform labor on many aspects of production often placing in jeopardy the planting or harvesting of perishable crops.  Often, migrant workers are the only group willing to perform many tasks, but securing legal workers can be a bureaucratic nightmare.  The H-2A program is utilized by many Kentucky farmers to secure laborers for tobacco production but it is in dire need of simplification and reform.  Domestic laborers simply are not available, or do not want to perform the tasks required with many agricultural jobs. 

1. What legislative reforms would you support to help farmers secure a willing, legal workforce?

Comer: It is an unfortunate reality that there is a worker shortage, not just in agriculture, but in many American industries. With that said, it is imperative that we find ways to help supply farmers with a necessary workforce, including temporary worker programs and reforms to the H-2A program.

Batts: The H-2A program must be reformed.  As it stands now the program is costly and requires lengthy paper work be submitted to multiple agencies.  I support a stream lined approach that eliminates government red tape and requires paperwork be submitted to one office thereby reducing the burden on farmers.

Pape: I would centralize these programs under one federal agency, unlike the
current system that requires farmers to deal with many different agencies.
I would also work to provide a permanent card of entry to workers who
return year after year to the same farmers so that their time of arrival can
be expedited. 

Gaskins: Social welfare reform will bring those that do abuse the system back to the workforce and grow a willing workforce.

2. Can the H-2A program be reformed to make it easier, and more cost effective, for Kentucky farmers to utilize, or should we develop a new program to provide stability to meet our farm labor needs?

Batts: The H-2A program can be reformed by streamlining the process and removing excess government involvement.  Another government program is not the answer.

Pape: We should always look to improve the H-2A program to assist farmers. I as mentioned previously, I support a permanent card of entry to workers who return to the same farms year after year to help expedite the process and get them to their farming locations quicker.

Gaskins: It can be streamlined and reformed to make the process easier and cheaper.

Comer: While some reforms to the H-2A program would help, some new, less costly programs could be more effective in the long run. Many of the requirements of H-2A make it expensive to take care of temporary workers, and there are many other bureaucratic hoops to jump through in this process.

3. What additional efforts would you support to help farmers be able to secure the necessary labor to produce our country’s food, fiber and energy?

Pape: I would support enlisting young people who haven’t grown up on a family
farm and give farmers the ability to hire those young people on their farms.
We must allow farmers to hire these young people during the summer
months and non-school hours without fear of child labor laws. 

Gaskins: Subsidies to hire veterans will bring in willing and able workers to any operation.

Comer: While some temporary, perhaps migrant workers will always be needed, we should also prioritize making agricultural employment more attractive to American workers. This includes increased agricultural education, new incentives to work in agriculture, and pursuing economic policies that make working in the fields a more attractive alternative to government dependency.

Batts: I support reducing the complexity of the H-2A and making it easier for farmers to utilize.  I work with farmers everyday and see firsthand how complex government programs, like the H-2A program, require extra time and excess paperwork that is simply not needed.

Wildlife Issues

Depredation by nuisance wildlife is a problem many farmers face.  Crop destruction from wild pigs or non-migrating geese and loss of livestock to coyote or black vultures in addition to the crop and property loss deer cause farmers and commuters each year total into the millions each year.  Most recently, Kentucky Farm Bureau was able to secure a statewide depredation permit that would allow livestock producers to protect their herds from black vulture depredation.  While this has been helpful, it does not provide a long term solution to the problem.

Another area of concern is how farmers and landowners deal with threatened and endangered species.  Designation of critical habitat under the authority of the Endangered Species Act sometimes places restrictions on a landowner’s ability to manage their resources in ways that could actually benefit the recovery of threatened and endangered species. 

1. What measures would you support to allow farmers the ability to protect crops and livestock from wildlife depredation?

Comer: It is important the way that we reform the way in which we classify certain wildlife protected, or endangered species. These classifications often prevent farmers from taking necessary action to protect their crops and livestock, a necessity to any farming operation. All options need to be on the table in terms of what creatures should receive protected status.

Batts: I support the ability for farmers to protect their crops and livestock from destructive nuisance wildlife.  Farmers should not have to apply for a permit from a federal agency in order to remove nuisance wildlife.

Pape: I would work with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Agency and expand the ability to eradicate the black vulture.

Gaskins: I will support a streamlined permitting system to keep nuisance animals from destroying crops and killing livestock.

2. What initiatives do you feel would be successful in building a partnership between federal agencies tasked with overseeing implementation of the Endangered Species Act and local farmers and landowners?

Batts: Federal agencies using the Endangered Species Act to restrict a private property owners use of their land is unacceptable.  I support commonsense and transparent strategies that do not adversely impact private property owners use of their land.

Pape: There has to be a balance between protecting endangered species and protecting America’s food supply. I believe that agriculture should have a larger seat at the table when discussing the implementation of the Endangered Species Act. 

Gaskins: A joint effort to trap and move endangered species from farms and ranches, as well as, a streamlined permitting system for the destruction of non-endangered species.

Comer: Input from farmers is critical to the crafting of regulations and classifications that affect the way farmers operate. Even more so, legislative oversight is critical, and I plan on using my agricultural background to be a strong voice on behalf of farmers in any discussions regarding the Endangered Species Act.

Health Care

Access to affordable health care continues to be a high priority for our members.  The cost of health care is a direct out-of-pocket expense for farmers like other small business owners.  We support comprehensive affordable health care for all U.S. citizens and believe health care is primarily the responsibility of the individual.  We support efforts to improve health care delivery and foster health care competition.  We support federal tax policies that encourage individuals to prepare for future health care needs. Patient rights to choose physicians and methods of treatment should be protected.

1. What steps would you advocate be taken to provide all Americans with affordable, quality health care?

Pape: Step one: repeal and replace Obamacare. Step two: open insurance markets across state lines for people to purchase and increase choice of insurance plans. Step three: increase access to community health center concept for primary healthcare for individuals to pay on a sliding scale based on income for healthcare services.

Gaskins: I want to see true, competitive pricing on medication and a single payer system.

Comer: Obamacare is a bad law that has made insurance less affordable and caused coverage cancellations. It should ultimately be repealed. We need to start over, and work to bring down costs by passing tort reform, and encouraging competition in the health care industry, including allowing insurance to be accessible across state lines.

Batts: First, Obamacare must be repealed.  We should not be forced to buy insurance we do not want and cannot afford. I support allowing health insurance to be sold across state lines in order to foster a more competitive health insurance market.

Fiscal Policy

The national debt continues to grow and threatens our nation’s economic stability.  Farmers must watch their bottom line to remain financially stable, just as the federal government should.  Balancing the federal budget and reducing the national debt through spending restraint and reducing the rate of growth rather than increasing the American tax burden will be important to the economic recovery and growth of our country.

1. What is your level of concern about the size of our nation’s deficit?

Comer: The federal government’s budget deficit, and the rising level of overall debt, is very concerning and carries enormous consequences. With a half a trillion-dollar deficit, and a debt level approaching $20 trillion, economic growth is threatened, consumers are hit with higher interest rates, and America’s overall economic standing is significantly diminished.

Batts: The national debt is a top priority. Right now, the national debt is in excess of $19 trillion dollars and continues to climb. We must cut government spending and eliminate excessive government bureaucracy.

Pape: Our nation’s debt and deficit are unsustainable we must reduce the size and scope of the federal government and our spending.

Gaskins: Our debt is an immediate threat to our economy and our future.

2. What measures would you support to reduce deficit spending and our national debt?

Batts: I support a balanced-budget amendment to the constitution.  For far too long the federal government has been allowed to spend more than it takes in year after year. We are expected to balance our budgets, Washington should have to do the same.

Pape: I would immediate pass a balanced budget amendment that would force Congress to pass a federal balanced budget.

Gaskins: The minimizing of fraud and waste on all agencies as well as the repatriation of corporate monies.

Comer: The most effective step that we could take to get our spending under control would be to pass a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution. Doing so would force Congress to cut wasteful spending and make government operate more efficiently. As Commissioner of Agriculture, I returned money back to the taxpayers, a rarity in government.

3. How do you feel agricultural spending should be affected in future budget considerations?

Pape: The entire budget must be on the table for review, however, agriculture
programs such as crop insurance must be maintained.

Gaskins: Once the fraud and abuse is curtailed, there should be no problems with helping farmers.

Comer: While there is some waste in every facet of government appropriations, we have to make sure our priorities are in order. The considerations of those who grow our nation’s food supply must be at the forefront of any budget negotiations, as farmers are a necessity to the health and well-being of our nation.

Batts: Agriculture is vital to the first district and to our nation as a whole.  A strong and safe food supply ensures our nation can thrive. Any budget considerations should not negatively impact the nation’s farming families or our food supply.