By Jeff Natalie-Lees
Rep. Kristi Noem senses somewhat better relations between Democrats and Republicans this Congressional session, but there are still a lot of major issues to resolve, she told an audience of about 60 people at an Aberdeen Chamber of Commerce Governmental Affairs meeting at the Ramada Inn on Wednesday.
Encouraging signs include a presidential visit to the House of Representatives earlier this month and the Senate passing a budget for the first time in four years, she said.
Public opinion polls show that the American public is frustrated with a series of Congressional stand-offs over the federal debt ceiling, fiscal cliff showdown and sequester. Congress passed a short-term budget extension to avoid the sequester — mandatory across-the-board budget cuts — but Congress will need to make a budget deal before the end of the year.
Noem said President Barack Obama made a rare visit to the House of Representatives in March, which she greatly appreciated. The president has not been active in communicating with representatives, at least not the Republicans, she said.
"The White House has a liaison in Congress who I had never met until recently," she said.
Working across the aisle with members of the other party is something Noem said she tries to do.
"Whenever I have a bill, I always try to have a Democratic co-sponsor," she said. "I figure that if it is a good enough idea, there ought to be some Democrats that agree."
Much of the tone set between the two parties has to come from the leadership teams, she said.
Noem said the Senate passing a budget is important because for the past four years, only the House has passed a budget. The Senate used the House budget as something to react against rather than develop its own set of priorities and expenditures. Now the House budget and Senate budget can be compared and leaders can better negotiate a final deal acceptable to both chambers, she said.
Other topics Noem addressed Wednesday included:
• Renewable Fuel Standard: Noem said that there will likely be proposed legislation to remove the Renewable Fuel Standard, which requires ethanol to be blended with gasoline at a specific level throughout the country.
"Loss of the Renewable Fuel Standard would devastate the (ethanol) industry," she said.
She vowed to fight any legislation that would roll back biofuel production.
"We have already lost the tax credit and the tariff," she said.
Noem said that there is a strong anti-ethanol sentiment in California and other places not familiar with ethanol production.
• Farm Bill: Congress passed a one-year extension of the Farm Bill at the end of 2012, but Congress will continue to try to pass a five-year bill this year.
She said there is a lot of work to be done in unifying the House of Representatives on the Farm Bill. One point of contention is food stamps. While more conservative members of the House want to reform the USDA Food Stamp Program to prevent abuses of the systems, others are opposed to any changes.
• National debt: The House of Representatives passed a budget that would balance the federal budget in 10 years. The Republican-controlled House is serious about debt reduction, Noem said.
"This is the most aggressive debt reduction proposed in many years," she said.
The national debt is about $17 trillion, with 47 percent of the debt held by foreign countries, she said.
"Whenever I decide on whether to increase spending, I ask myself, 'Is this worth borrowing from China for?',” she said.
• EPA: Noem said she is worried about the Environmental Protection Agency instituting some type of carbon cap-and-trade program that would adversely affect coal-fired power plants. South Dakota gets about 50 percent of its energy from coal-fired plants, she said.
Regulations would result in increased costs to consumers, she said, something South Dakotans don't need.
To read more: http://www.aberdeennews.com/news/aan-noem-senses-better-relations-in-congress-20130327,0,2855974.story