Flood relief, improving trade on mind of Roberts, constituents

The chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee expects Congress to write a disaster relief bill to help constituents in the Midwest, the South and Puerto Rico.

 “The big issue is Puerto Rico. Since the hurricanes a lot of people have left and that is coupled with a government that has not responded well to criteria required by the Trump administration,” said Sen. Pat Roberts, R-KS, who expects more work after the Easter recess. “The Democrats want more money and the administration feels $91 billion is enough help them.”

Puerto Rico was damaged in 2017 by Hurricanes Maria and Irma. Other disasters in 2018 caused about $35 billion in damage to most notably Texas, Georgia and Florida and other southern states. The mid-March flooding in the Midwest is expected to cost several billions of dollars.

The appropriators in the Senate and House will have the final say, Roberts said.

“I do think Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) is the key and if anyone can do it Richard can,” he said of the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.

Disaster relief bills in their nature become ad hoc, which can make them time-consuming to write. “With every relief bill everyone wants to put something on the train.”

One reason Roberts has always championed crop insurance in a bipartisan manner is that it helps farmers and ranchers with disaster risk mitigation. Roberts was in Dodge City, Kansas, for a legislative update on April 26 sponsored by the Dodge City Area Chamber of Commerce and sat down for one-on-one interview to discuss agricultural-related topics before the event.

Finding bipartisanship

Roberts was thankful the 2018 farm bill was finished before the new Congress convened. Democrats now control the House,  and he said the liberal wing of the party is focused on investigating President Donald Trump following the release of Robert Mueller’s report on the Russia investigation.

“I am so happy we were able to get a farm bill done last year in the Senate and House, and although the president did not agree with all of what was in the bill he did sign it,” Roberts said. “It is a good we did because we don’t have a grasp on the House. Now all they talk about is Trump, Trump, Trump.”

Roberts said he read the Mueller report and was satisfied with the findings and he noted when he is out on listening tours farmers, ranchers and constituents have expressed concerns about the state of the rural economy, grain prices, trade policy and health care.


Grain prices and trade policies are on the minds of producers and they go hand in hand. The tariffs imposed by the Trump administration have adversely affected grain prices.

The president has a noble goal of wanting to fix trade inequities, Roberts said, yet inequities are all part of a trade equation because countries want access to sell and buy goods and commodities.

“I have never known a trade deal in which one side gets 100 percent of what it wants,” he said. “There has to be compromise.”

Agriculture and American interests have historically benefited from trade, he said. He was hopeful the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement will be approved by Congress. Although he was glad to see the Trump administration pursue trade agreements, he hopes his administration will reconsider its decision to withdraw from the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement. Roberts said while he had reservations about certain aspects of the pact he thought it was a good agreement in sum and would have been helpful in addressing trade concerns with China.

“We don’t want mitigation payments we want trade,” the senator said. “I have talked to President Trump one-on-one and he understands the problem and he is genuinely concerned about the plight of farmers.”

The president has urged patience, Roberts said, but constituents are becoming concerned. Kansas was hit first a year ago when China put tariffs on sorghum imports and the price dropped nearly $1 per bushel. Roberts remembers visiting with a young farmer who had sold his sorghum crop right after the price dropped and how devastating it was for the farmer who had done everything the right way.

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“We have fought so hard to gain market share over many years. It is tough to give up market shares and hard to get them back.”

Farmers and ranchers have would much rather derive their income from the marketplace rather than depend on subsidies, according to Roberts.

That has fit well with the mantra of supporting the need to feed a hungry and troubled world, as championed by Roberts for many years. However, farmers and ranchers have had more than their fair sure of challenges

Rural health care

In terms of health care and availability, he finds few advocates in the Medicare-for-all slogan touted by Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for president in 2020. Medicare is a federal health care insurance program for people aged 65 and over and for disabled. Medicare helps pay charges for hospitalization, for stays in skilled nursing facilities, for physicians charges and for some associated health costs. There are limitations on the length of stay and type of care.

Roberts said both parties should work together to find a pragmatic solution to rising costs and improving care.

While he has announced he plans to retire after his term expires in January 2021, Roberts said he will stay active and be forward thinking. One example is his committee plans to have a hearing on climate change’s impact on agriculture

“Everyone in Kansas knows there is climate change occurring,” he said. “The important question is what can we do to help producers to mitigate the impact of climate change.”

As it is in many issues for rural Americans, access to most up-to-date research and accessibility to technology is necessary to help producers, he said. Climate change, he said, is a contentious subject for some, yet he believes hearings can help illuminate the challenges.

“I know we have all heard from nay-sayers and activists the other way but I want it to be about what’s possible, for example, to help a wheat farmer so he can make his decision about the crop from when he plants it to when he harvests it,” he said.

The committee will also be monitoring the implementation of the farm bill and child nutrition issues. 

Dave Bergmeier can be reached at 620-227-1822 or [email protected].