By Deb Gau
MARSHALL — During Rep. Michelle Fischbach’s first few months as a congresswoman, the federal government has faced some major proposals to deal with the COVID-19 crisis and aging infrastructure across the country. However, this week Fischbach said she’s not convinced broad spending is the solution to either problem.
Fischbach said she hasn’t yet had a chance to see all of President Joe Biden’s estimated $2 trillion infrastructure proposal that was unveiled this week. But from what she has seen, she said, “It doesn’t look as helpful as I would like.”
“On the surface he makes it sound real good, but I think when we start looking at the details, it’s going to be a problem,” Fischbach told the Independent on Thursday.
Fischbach, the newly elected representative of Minnesota’s Congressional District 7, made several stops in the area on Thursday, and has more planned today. In addition to speaking with the Independent, Fischbach met with leaders at Avera Marshall Regional Medical Center and Southwest Minnesota State University, and toured Ash Grove Dairy near Lake Benton.
Fischbach will be meeting with members of the Lyon County Board at 9 a.m. today. Because a quorum of the county board would be in attendance, the board is treating the event as a special meeting that will be open to the public, Lyon County Administrator Loren Stomberg said.
“I’m very happy to be down here,” Fischbach said. While her plans this week included a lot of travel within CD7, she wanted to talk with constituents, “and hear what’s on their minds.”
Fischbach said she had concerns about Biden’s infrastructure proposal. The $2 trillion price tag was a big one, as was the fact that the proposal would partly be paid for through tax increases, she said. “We need to know how that’s going to affect things.”
Fischbach said she would also like to see more targeted infrastructure spending.
“We need to get the money out there for roads, for bridges, for things like that, but not all of the additional spending they’re looking at,” she said. “As we look at this proposal, it sounds great when you say ‘Oh, we’ll spend a bunch of money on infrastructure.’ But it’s also going to spend a bunch of money on clean energy stuff, it’s going to spend a bunch of money on other things, and paying for it with increased taxes.”
Fischbach said she voted against the $1.9 trillion COVID relief bill passed by Congress in March for similar reasons – the high price tag, and lots of spending unrelated to fighting COVID-19.
“The relief bill that we had, that was $1.9 trillion, very little of it actually went to real true COVID relief,” Fischbach said. “What I was really looking for, and what I was really advocating for, was a very targeted relief bill.” Farms and businesses facing the most issues from the pandemic should have been the focus of the relief package, she said.
“Here in Minnesota we had shutdowns. Our small businesses in rural Minnesota needed the help directed at them, and I don’t think you get that in that bill. We spent money on paying off farm loans for socially disadvantaged farmers, we spent money on subways in California, we spent money on things that have absolutely nothing to do with COVID.”
The stimulus bill passed by Congress did include funding to help with debt relief for minority farmers. However, a provision that would have allocated $141 million for expansion of the Bay Area Rapid Transit system in California was removed after the Senate parliamentarian ruled it was not eligible to be included in the bill.
“It wasn’t that I don’t want to see COVID relief. It’s that that’s not the kind that rural Minnesota really needed and was asking for,” Fischbach said of her opposition to the bill.
Fischbach said she is excited to be part of the House Committee on Agriculture. With a new farm bill coming up in a couple of years, she said she hopes to be able to concentrate more on agriculture issues. So far, in addition to the agricultural portion of the COVID relief bill, the committee has held hearings on socially disadvantaged farmers and climate change, she said.
Fischbach said she hopes to hear more from farmers and work on issues directly important to them, as opposed to broader issues like climate change.
“The one thing we haven’t been talking about is that the farmers have already done so much” to help protect the environment, Fischbach said. “We really need to make sure farmers have a seat at the table if we’re going to have those discussions, and that we are doing incentive-based and not mandatory or punitive kinds of things.”
“If we are going to do these things with climate change and make these changes, I don’t want to see us doing things like the California emissions standards,” Fischbach said. Other measures like biofuels need to be supported as part of the solution, she said.
Fischbach said child care was a major concern she heard from voters on the campaign trail last year, and she is working to pass legislation to help in-home and other day care providers.
“My first bill, the Child Care Choices Act, would help put more money directed into home-based and into faith-based (providers),” she said. “It would also allow parents the ability to choose where they went.”
Fischbach said she also hoped to continue to look at the regulations that make it difficult for in-home child care providers to stay open.