ROCK ISLAND, Ill. — It wasn’t exactly “get back to work,” but Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-Moline, heard what the farmers and agribusiness representatives and others at the Quad Cities Farm Show were saying, loud and clear. And she shared their frustration.
“We’ve got a lot of work to get done. There’s not one person I’ve passed who hasn’t said ‘can you get things going again?’” said Bustos, speaking as she toured the Calmer Corn Heads display and talked to company representatives about the different corn harvest technology in the booth.
Bustos easily won re-election in November for her fourth term representing the 17th Congressional District, which includes the Quad Cities.
She added the House Appropriations Committee to her committee assignments earlier this month, along with retaining her seat on the House Agriculture Committee. In addition, Bustos was named chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
“Better days ahead, I hope, and I hope there will be a willingness for everybody to sit down,” Bustos said.
Bustos said she recognized that farmers are struggling and the industries that support them, consequently, are experiencing a slower economy. She pointed to John Deere as an example.
“Look at their inputs, there are tariffs on the steel that they make their products with. There are tariffs on the machinery that goes inside of a combine, the same tariffs apply to them as apply to car parts,” Bustos said.
Bustos said the economic pain being felt by farmers reverberates throughout the region.
“You’ve got your family farmer whose income is down right now so they are not running out to buy a new combine. Our commodity prices are still low. This promise of having E15 year-round, that’s not materializing. The direct payments that have been promised as a result of the trade war, those came to a halt due to the government shutdown. There are all of these external forces that are coming at our family farmers at the same time. We’ve got to offer some certainty and that means sitting down and negotiating,” Bustos said.
Bustos said her party endorses immigration reform and a secure border but not in the form of the wall that President Trump wants.
“We all believe that. It’s how we get to that point,” Bustos said.
She outlined the plan that Democrats favor, which would put money toward enhanced technology to monitor the border with Mexico and to beef up security and surveillance at ports of entry along the border.
“We’re not saying we don’t want to invest in this but let’s do it in a way that respects the taxpayer dollars and that does give us a safe and secure border,” Bustos said.
She added that the need for comprehensive immigration reform, which addresses the need for workers in U.S. agricultural jobs, is the second step after a plan to secure the border is reached.
“If you would ask our family farmers, our dairy farmers, our hog farmers, the meat processing plants, the chicken farmers, they all want to make sure they can hire people who will be good employees. Many of those folks have been immigrants. That’s a shoutout for immigration reform and I think the vast majority of our family farmers want us to make sure we start addressing that. That’s got to come after we get the government open and figure out the border itself,” Bustos said.
Bustos spoke at the farm show and a few days later, on Jan. 25, the House and the Senate passed a bill to reopen the government and get some 800,000 furloughed federal workers back to work. That legislation, which opens the government for three weeks, was signed the same day by President Trump. It did not include the $5.7 billion he said he wants to build a border wall.