The stalled Farm Bill took center stage as South Dakota Congresswoman Kristi Noem and Democratic challenger Matt Varilek squared off in their first debate Wednesday at Dakotafest in Mitchell.
For the first few months of the campaign Kristi Noem has been defending her record when it comes to standing up for agriculture in Washington D.C. and Matt Varilek has been attacking the incumbent.
The debate on Wednesday was very similar; the only difference is the candidates did it face to face and in front of hundreds of voters and farmers.
Varilek accused Noem of not doing enough to push the bill forward before Congress took a five week recess.
"She can't convince John Boehner to bring the bill for a vote. She hasn’t been able to convince many of the fellow Tea partiers to support this Farm Bill, many of whom view it as welfare for farmers because they don’t understand South Dakota agriculture," Varilek said.
Noem says she voted against adjournment and it's the Democrats in the House that have been stopping a vote on the bill that is set to expire at the end of September.
"The reason we don't have a Farm Bill on the House floor today is because the vast majority of Democrats are walking away from the bill because of reroms to the food stamp portion of the bill and they are holding our ag producers hostage," Noem said.
But at one point during the debate Varilek accused Noem of succumbing to House Republican leadership in preventing a vote on the legislation.
"I would like to ask very directly on behalf of the people who ask me; is it true that you changed your position because of pressure from political leadership?" Varilek asked.
"Absolutely not, it’s absolutely not," Noem responded.
Varilek says if he were in Congress, he would be pushing for passage as soon as possible.
“I want you to know where I stand. I support forcing a vote on the Farm Bill. I think we need to get this resolved and end the uncertainty you’re facing," Varilek said.
And Noem said she'll do just that when Congress reconvenes in September.
“If we do not have a Farm Bill scheduled for a vote when we get back to Washington I’m going to be carrying the charge on a discharge petition (to force a vote). It’s that important for South Dakota farmers,” Noem said.
The Dakotafest debate was the first of four scheduled debates Noem and Varilek will take part in, including a debate that will be broadcast live November 2 on KELO-TV.