MARSHALL — Government spending and agriculture issues were front and center Friday during a congressional update from Rep. Michelle Fischbach.
“I think the biggest thing we are dealing with right now is really the debt ceiling,” Fischbach told an audience of Marshall area residents and officials. Spending cuts needed to be part of the response, as well as recapturing unspent COVID relief funds, she said. “We need to cut spending. That’s how we avoid having to increase (the debt ceiling) later.”
Fishbach, who represents Minnesota’s Seventh Congressional District, spoke with area residents at a Marshall Area Chamber of Commerce event Friday. Before that, she visited Southwest Minnesota State University and welcomed Minnesota FFA students to the campus for the Ag Bowl Scholarship Invitational. SMSU President Kumara Jayasuriya said the scholarship and career development event brought close to 1,200 FFA students to campus.
“This is the biggest number of people we have had at this event in history,” Jayasuriya said.
At the Chamber event, Fischbach gave an update of issues facing Congress this session, and took questions from area residents. This year, Fischbach is on the House Ways and Means Committee, the Budget Committee, the Rules Committee and the Ethics Committee.
The debt ceiling was one of the biggest issues the Budget Committee was looking at, Fischbach said. “The debt ceiling right now is at $31 trillion, and we hit that. We can’t just continue to extend it into the future,” she said.
Fischbach said it was possible that there could be some increase in the debt ceiling. “We’re not going to default,” she said. “But I think the thing that we have to look at is cutting spending.” In addition, she said the U.S. needed to recapture unspent funds for COVID pandemic response, and “get a handle” on fraud and waste.
The Farm Bill is another major focus for lawmakers right now. Fischbach said her work on the Ways and Means Committee also involves working “in tandem” with the Ag Committee.
“Ways and Means has so much that we can do for ag and for strong rural communities,” she said. “One of the things that the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, Congressman (Jason) Smith out of Missouri, is he’s very focused on trade, particularly ag trade. Because it really feels like the administration has not done what they’ve needed to do on trade. So we’re going to be pushing that forward and really working on that.”
The Ways and Means committee will also be working in other areas that affect agriculture, including taxes and support for telehealth, Fischbach said.
“It’s about strong rural communities. And that’s how we help the ag industry, we make sure that we have the housing we need, that we have the education care we need, that we have the health care we need,” she said.
Fishbach said the House was also putting through bills related to ending emergency provisions from the COVID pandemic, and getting rid of a vaccine mandate for health care workers. Fischbach said the country needed to return to normal to address workforce and other issues. “And I really trust that people in health care, and people out there are going to keep their patients safe,” she said.
Questions from audience members at the Chamber event covered topics ranging from immigration to transportation funding. David Sturrock, chairman of the Marshall Area Transportation Group, asked about the possibility of earmarks for transportation projects in CD7.
Fischbach did not request any earmarks in a $1.7 trillion appropriations package Congress passed in December.
“Right now, what I think the Republican conference is undertaking is kind of putting some parameters on what you can have as earmarks, so we’re not spending money on things that are not what we should be” Fischbach said. She said the emphasis should be on infrastructure projects like roads and bridges. “We are certainly considering it at this point. We are considering putting in earmarks, if there are some new directions on what we can use those on.”