Agriculture

Kansas congressman supports disaster aid bill, but backs Republicans who blocked it

Devastating floods threaten to end farming career for Bruce Biermann in northwest Missouri

After devastating floods hit his property in March, farmer Bruce Biermann of Mound City, Mo., who grows corn and soybeans on 1,700 acres of farmland near Corning, Missouri in Holt County, says the damage threatens to end his career in farming.
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After devastating floods hit his property in March, farmer Bruce Biermann of Mound City, Mo., who grows corn and soybeans on 1,700 acres of farmland near Corning, Missouri in Holt County, says the damage threatens to end his career in farming.

Rep. Roger Marshall toured farms damaged by floods in his district this week, but the Kansas Republican still defended moves by two of his House GOP colleagues that delayed those farms from getting federal aid.

Marshall’s comments in support of his fellow lawmakers came hours before a House Republican blocked disaster aid for the third time in six days.

Kansas and other Midwestern states have been besieged with flooding in recent weeks.

During a call with reporters, Marshall said Thursday that he saw animals on Kansas farms that looked like they were lining up for Noah’s Ark.

He said that many farmers can’t make decisions about planting until Congress passes a long-delayed $19 billion disaster relief bill. However, he defended the actions of two GOP congressmen that have halted the bill from getting to President Donald Trump’s desk.

“I respect what they did and even considered doing it myself,” Marshall said Thursday. “I don’t think a $19 billion package should be passed without the congressmen there to pass it.”

After the Senate passed the disaster aid bill last week, it was expected to pass the House by unanimous consent during the legislative break as long as no lawmakers objected to its passage. The bill also would provide aid for communities affected by tornadoes.

Republican Rep. Chip Roy of Texas delayed his flight home to block the bill last week. This week, Republican Rep. Thomas Massie of Kentucky returned to Washington for the sole purpose of blocking the bill again.

Rep. John Rose of Tennessee became the latest GOP lawmaker to single-handedly block the bill Thursday when House leadership unsuccessfully tried to pass the bill for a third time.

Marshall, who is weighing a U.S. Senate bid, criticized House Democratic leadership for attempting to pass the bill while lawmakers are not in Washington.

Marshall said he intends to vote for the bill when the House reconvenes next week. He was absent when the House passed a similar disaster aid bill last month with only a handful of Republican votes.

Both versions of the bill include provisions to repair roads and bridges damaged by flooding and to compensate farmers who had stored crops destroyed by the floods.

Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, D-Missouri, called Roy’s decision to block the bill “a dagger in the heart” for Midwestern farmers last week.

The legislation has been delayed for months because of a standoff between Trump and Democrats over aid to Puerto Rico.

The Senate passed the disaster aid bill with bipartisan support after Trump dropped his objections to hundreds of millions more in aid for the island territory, which is still recovering from a 2017 hurricane. Marshall blamed the legislation’s delay on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, rather than the president.

On the phone call, the western Kansas congressman lamented a record number of farm bankruptcies in the agriculture-heavy state and laid out the combination of challenges facing farmers, including weather and the impact of Trump’s trade war.

“I just can’t remember a four-week rollercoaster like this in agriculture in recent memory,” Marshall said.

He recounted a recent meeting with the president where Trump talked about trade policy for 30 minutes rather than health care, the topic they were scheduled to discuss.

“First thing the president said was, ‘Roger, how are your farmers doing?’” Marshall said.

Marshall applauded the Trump administration for moving forward with a $16 billion bailout for farmers after trade talks with China dissolved.

He also called for the passage of a new trade deal with Canada and Mexico, Kansas’ two biggest trading partners.

Marshall said Pelosi’s preconditions for a vote — Mexico’s passage of improved labor laws and Trump lifting tariffs on steel and aluminum — have been met.

“If she brings it to the House floor, we’ve got the votes to pass it,” he said.

Bryan Lowry covers Kansas and Missouri politics as Washington correspondent for The Kansas City Star. He previously served as Kansas statehouse correspondent for The Wichita Eagle and as The Star’s lead political reporter. Lowry contributed to The Star’s investigation into government secrecy that was a finalist for The Pulitzer Prize.

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