Rice farmer says debt ceiling fight won't cause shutdown
By TIM HEARDEN
LOS MOLINOS, Calif. -- Ensuring fiscal responsibility and passing a five-year farm bill will be key priorities for freshman U.S. Rep. Doug LaMalfa, R-Calif., in the coming months.
The rice farmer and former state legislator from Richvale, Calif., will insist on "something that fundamentally changes the way things are done" in exchange for raising the debt ceiling, he said in an interview.
LaMalfa will also continue to fight for the water rights of ranchers in far Northern California amid what he believes is overbearing state regulations, he told the Capital Press during a local Farm Bureau awards dinner here Jan. 10.
"It's just wrong what they're doing," LaMalfa said of the California Department of Fish and Game, which has pushed ranchers to obtain permits for irrigation. "They've lost the scope of what they're there to do."
LaMalfa, 52, had his family present in Washington, D.C., as he was sworn in Jan. 3 by House Speaker John Boehner. He replaces retired 13-term Rep. Wally Herger, R-Calif., a walnut and plum farmer who endorsed LaMalfa during the campaign because of his ties to agriculture.
LaMalfa was in the state Assembly from 2003 to 2009 and was elected to the Senate in 2010. He said his experience at the state level will help him in Congress, where he was quickly named to the House Agriculture Committee.
"It's just an amazing experience to find oneself being sworn in to the House of Representatives, with the history that is there and the great names that you're following," he said.
Among the issues that LaMalfa will face in the next few months:
* Debt ceiling. LaMalfa said he doesn't accept the premise that the government would have to shut down if the debt ceiling isn't raised in a couple of months.
"There's still revenue coming in," he said. "Why don't we talk about prioritizing what our spending needs to be?"
Without significant spending cuts, "we're just going to burden the next generation with a gigantic debt," he said.
* Farm bill. Now that the election is over, LaMalfa believes there's a good chance a deal will be reached on a five-year farm bill this year. However, he wouldn't commit that specialty crop funding important to some California industries will be fully restored.
"I think what they're looking for is help with marketing and research, and that's something that we can probably help on, but they're going to see a haircut, too," he said.
LaMalfa added he doesn't think he'll have to skip votes on the farm bill even though he's taken rice subsidies over the years.
"Under ethics rules, if it affects everyone and not just you or a small group of people ... you have no problem there," he said. "We'll be very conscious of how it looks and plays."
* Health care reform. LaMalfa predicts that as President Barack Obama's health care reform measure is implemented, problems that arise will create a demand for "better health care policy that actually works." He said he'll fight for such policy.
* Local issues. Aside from defending Siskiyou County water users, LaMalfa said he will also push to renew the Quincy Library Group Forest Recovery Act, which expired last year.
First shepherded through Congress in 1998 by Herger and U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., the legislation facilitated timber harvests in three national forests in northeastern California.
Rep. Doug LaMalfa: http://lamalfa.house.gov/