Taking questions from constituents, Rep. Jeff Fortenberry on Tuesday said there is still the possibility a farm bill can be passed in the near future – however that prospect is unlikely.
Fortenberry, who sits on the agriculture appropriations committee, said a farm bill is important because of its stabilization policies and nutrition aspects.
Speaking during a town hall meeting Tuesday at Midland University, the 1st District representative said of agriculture “it is poorly understood in Washington.”
The failure of a House bill came as a shock to Fortenberry, and was frustrating personally. The passage of the Senate’s version of a bill, or the extension of a current bill would be a mistake, said Fortenberry, because it wouldn’t include the reform measures or the savings written into the House measure.
“Agriculture is the only bright spot in America’s economy,” Fortenberry said. “It is the main thing we produce anymore and export at high-high levels.”
Turning to immigration, Fortenberry said a law open to those fleeing persecution should remain the hallmark of the nation’s immigration policy.
But lawmakers need to address dynamics within the system that are creating disorder; including border security, interior enforcement, a streamlined legal immigration process and foreign policy considerations.
Speaking to border security, Fortenberry said there are 1 million people who enter the U.S. legally each year. However in 2011 there were 11 million people in the U.S. illegally; about 40 percent of those had overstayed a visa.
Fortenberry said there is no penalty for overstaying a visa, but a policy on that aspect of the immigration issue should be a no-brainer.
The congressman had stern words for employers who willfully violate immigration laws by hiring illegal workers. He said the action pushes down wages and hurts the overall economy. The House is taking action by promoting the E-Verify system to ensure laws are followed.
“America, we are country of immigrants, but we are also a country of laws,” said Fortenberry.
Addressing federal spending, Fortenberry said it will top $3.45 trillion in fiscal year 2013, nearly double from what it was 10 years ago.
Since 1990 the deficit has ballooned from $200 billion to $600 billion this year, he said.
“This is clearly unsustainable and in fact it’s dangerous in terms of our economic well-being and as well as national security because it leaves us debt.”
But Fortenberry said refusing to raise the debt ceiling when it is reached this fall, in effect defunding Obamacare, would cause a government shutdown with consequences without accomplishing the goal.
“If this comes to pass and you shut down the government, there is huge collateral damage and you will not fund Obamacare in the end,” he said.
Fortenberry said he prefers to dismantle the massive healthcare overhaul incrementally, mitigating what he calls damage caused by the bill while allowing government to still function.
“The president is not going to sign a law that repeals his signature issue,” said Fortenberry.