One sign of the dysfunction in Washington these days is that the conversations there have become completely detached from the ones happening in kitchens and living rooms across Colorado and the country.
Recently, we spent some days traveling the eastern plains from north to south. From Haxtun to Walsh, people weren’t interested in talking about the latest shouting from pundits on the cable news. Instead, they asked why Congress hasn’t passed a farm bill or fixed our broken immigration system and why Washington isn’t meeting its basic obligations.
These are the same questions we’ve heard from countless Coloradans in our town hall meetings and roundtables across the state. We’ve met Coloradans who are hard at work every day doing their jobs, wondering what’s taking Congress so long to get its own job done.
One thing is clear: Washington isn’t meeting the needs of our rural communities.
The certainty that comes from passage of a five-year farm bill, or a sound immigration policy, is essential for the success of our farmers, ranchers, small businesses and our rural economies. While the Senate has passed bipartisan bills addressing these important issues, the U.S. House of Representatives is stuck in “politics as usual.” What they fail to see is that these delays have real-life implications across our state.
In August, I had the opportunity to visit Jerry Cooksey in Roggen, Colo., where he is growing a new strain of wheat that is both drought- and disease-resistant. Colorado State University developed this wheat with the help of funding from the farm bill, and it has proven profitable for wheat farmers across the state.
Southeastern Colorado farmers continue to suffer from a terrible drought. While we can’t make it rain, the bipartisan Senate farm bill includes measures to help farmers and ranchers make the best decisions for their operations, improve soil and water quality and keep them in business during and after difficult times. The bill also reinstates expired livestock disaster programs that would cover losses both for this year and last year.
It isn’t only our producers who benefit from the Farm Bill. Community organizations and business owners across the state have used USDA rural development grants and loans authorized in the farm bill to start businesses, complete projects, or to make profitable investments and improvements in infrastructure. For example, La Plata Electric Association in Durango received a USDA grant to explore renewable energy options, and the Haxtun Community Childcare Center used this funding to open the only child-care center in the area, allowing parents in rural communities to work and raise a family.
On Hanagan Farms in La Junta, we met with farmers and ranchers who explained that our broken immigration system is hurting their businesses. The convoluted and unworkable H-2A visa program prevents them from finding the reliable workers that they need to harvest their crops.
It’s stories like these that help my office bring Colorado’s perspective back to Washington. They are invaluable to my work as a member of the “Gang of Eight” senators who authored the bipartisan Senate immigration bill and more recently as a member of the Farm Bill Conference Committee that will work out the final details of the farm bill.
It’s my hope that members of Congress across the country are also spending time in their states listening to the common sense of their constituents, instead of the ongoing noise of Washington’s echo chamber, so we can better serve our rural communities.
Democrat Michael Bennet has represented Colorado in the U.S. Senate since 2009.