By Stewart Doan

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.

WASHINGTON, Feb. 7 – Freshman U.S. Senator John Hoeven, R-N.D., is our guest this week on Open Mic. Hoeven, who defeated his Democratic opponent by a 3-to-1 margin in November, lists job creation, spending discipline, passage of an all-encompassing energy policy and the “right kind” of healthcare reform as his top priorities for the 112th session of Congress. He doesn’t believe FY 2011 budget cuts of the magnitude suggested by House Republicans are necessary and says putting the country back on the right course will require bipartisan cooperation. A strong supporter of biofuels, Hoeven believes that scarce federal dollars should be used to encourage more demand for ethanol via blender pumps and flex fuel vehicles. He joins North Dakota’s senior U.S. Senator, Democrat Kent Conrad, on the Senate Agriculture Committee and says he’ll work to maintain a “cost-effective” safety net in the 2012 Farm Bill. The interview lasts about 11 minutes. To hear the interview or download it, click HERE.

SD: Senator Hoeven, welcome to Agri-Pulse Open Mic.

JH: Good to be with you, appreciate the invitation.

SD: What did the voters of North Dakota send you to Washington to do?

JH: Well, to make sure that we put job creation job number one. We’ve got to get out of the recession, get people back to work. We’ve got to get a grip on spending. North Dakota is not only a huge agricultural state, both farming and ranching, but it’s a big energy producer. We need to do a lot more with energy for this country, the right kind of health care reform. Those are some of the real priorities.

SD: The Congress is going to have to, next month, complete a budget for the remainder of the fiscal year. What kind of deficit reduction signal, or how much in terms of cuts, should Congress aim for to send a signal to the country that it is prepared to deal with this deficit?

JH: Well, clearly we’re going to have to reduce spending. There’s no question about it. And it’s likely that as we do that, and again we need to do it for the good of our country both now and for future generations, but the other thing is I think it will send a clear signal to the markets and the private industry that will help our economy. We need to empower people and small business, our farmers and ranchers and others, to invest and that’s where we’re going to get the real economic growth and the employment gains, not through more government spending.

SD: House Republicans have been floating numbers between seventy-five and one hundred billion dollars. Are cuts of that level doable?

JH: You know, we’ve already made progress towards that goal, and so, I don’t think it requires that level of reduction to get to the 2008 spending level, which is the targeted level, but clearly that’s the goal to get there and on both the House and Senate side, we’re going to have to work together to do it. But again, this is about making sure that we get our economy growing and getting spending under control is an important part of making that happen.

SD: It’s said that the House is where legislation gets passed, only to die in the Senate. We had an example of that just a few days ago with the health care repeal. If that in fact becomes the outcome on several pieces of legislation that Republicans campaigned on in the midterms, will Republicans be breaking their campaign promises to the voters?

JH: No, I mean, Republicans are going to work hard on the issues I talked about at the outset, whether it’s job creation, spending control, the right kind of health care reform, a comprehensive energy policy, good support for farmers and ranchers. I mean, we’re going to work on all those things and it’s going to take both sides of the aisle working together as well as the House and the Senate working together with the Administration to get those things done. But our job for all of us, whether you’re in the Senate, the House or in the Executive Branch, our job is to work together and get these things done for the people of this country and move this country forward.

SD: In that vein, were you encouraged that the Senate voted overwhelmingly to repeal the 1099 provision, reporting provision, on health care reform that impacted small businesses?

JH: You know, that’s a good example. That is a good example and I was co-sponsor on the bill. Actually, I was co-sponsor on the Mike Johanns bill and our bill was essentially the same as the Stabenow bill that passed.

SD: Prior to entering politics, you were a banker. What impact will the financial regulatory reform legislation passed last year have on rural banks?

JH: I don’t think it will be a good impact, and more importantly, this is about serving the customer. As you continue to add more cost and bureaucracy and regulation on top of any industry, whether it’s farming or ranching or banking or energy or you pick one, you drive up costs and that cost gets passed on to the consumer. We have got to find ways to create a regulatory environment that is simpler, clearer, that empowers business to compete and give our consumers better price and more choice. And that’s the, look, we’ve got to create a good business environment and do more business in this country.

SD: While you were Governor of North Dakota, you chaired the Governors Biofuels Coalition. What is the government’s role in supporting ethanol going forward?

JH: As far as ethanol and biofuels, again we need to create an environment that encourages development of all our energy resources, both traditional energy resources like coal and oil and gas and clean coal technologies, and renewables: wind, biofuels, biomass, solar, all of them. Biofuels, for example, we can do a lot more. In North Dakota, we have more blender pumps out there than any state in the country. That allows the consumer to choose what, how much of an ethanol blend he or she wants. EPA, we need to get that waiver so that we can have a fifteen percent blend in all vehicles. That will significantly increase the use of ethanol, domestically produced fuel, give the customer better lower cost and more options. Those are the kind of things that we can do that will make a real difference, and it doesn’t cost the government or the taxpayer anything to do it. It just creates an environment where, whether it’s our farmers, whether it’s the energy industry, whoever it is, they can produce more and create more opportunity in the marketplace for business development, technology development that not only ultimately serves the producer, like our farmers, but truly serves consumers.

SD: So I take it then that you would be supportive of efforts in the coming year to shift the federal dollars that currently go to supporting the blenders’ tax credit into building out infrastructure?

JH: We have to look at opportunities, like blender pumps, like flex fuel vehicles, like the E15. Look, we’re in tighter budgetary times, so we have to look for ways to stimulate energy development across all sectors in these tighter budget times. We have a real opportunity to do it. We have to be creative.

SD: You sought and received a seat on the Senate Agriculture Committee. Your North Dakota colleague, Senator Conrad, is on that Committee as well. Why did you seek a second seat for North Dakota?

JH: Well, our state is needless to say a big ag state, but look, good farm policy is not only important for our farmers and ranchers, it’s important for every single American. We have the highest quality lowest cost food supply in the world thanks to our farmers and our ranchers. So we need the right kind of farm policy to continue that effort, and so it’s not only important for our state, it’s important for our country. We’re going in to writing this new Farm Bill in the next year, and I worked on the last two as a Governor, and I certainly want to be part of the new Farm Bill as Senator.

SD: Interested in your views on risk management. The Deficit Reduction Commission, of which Senator Conrad was a member, recommended a fifteen billion dollar cut in ag programs over the next decade, with five billion of that rolled into a permanent disaster program. He championed the SURE disaster program in the last Farm Bill. Where do you come down on risk management? Do you favor a continuation of the SURE program or are you more in tune with crop insurance?

JH: Well, I think we need a good safety net in the Farm Bill. That’s very important. Now, I also like the disaster title as well. I worked to support that in the last Farm Bill. So, when we work on this, we need to make sure that we have a good safety net and I think the approach we’re taking is very cost-effective, not only good for our producers, but ultimately very good for everyone in this country, the consumers of this country. And when you look at that safety net, it’s a combination of the counter-cyclical safety net, the counter-cyclical piece, the direct payments and crop insurance. What I think you’ll see very likely, as we work on this next Farm Bill, is some pressure on the direct payments because of the budgetary constraints, but at the same time it gives us an opportunity to enhance crop insurance so that producers can insure like any other type, you know anyone in any other business.

SD: Cuba trade has been an issue of interest to North Dakota farmers and ranchers. Trade missions have been led by the governors of that state. You had an interest in exploring trade opportunities in Cuba for North Dakota farm products. How do you read the tea leaves in Congress on further easing the Cuban trade embargo?

JH: You know, I’m not sure. Overall, I’m a strong proponent of trade. I think it benefits our farmers and our ranchers and we do a great job of competing. We need to make sure it’s done on a fair basis, but we need to continue to expand our exports and no question ag is going to do that. We were very aggressive with it in North Dakota. In the case of Cuba, I support making sure we are able to export food products to them. As far as going beyond that, I’ve got to tell you I’m not sure. I’ve spent some time talking to Senator Marco Rubio and others, and there’s two schools of thought on how best to put pressure on what’s now the Raul Castro regime, and we need to do that so that they provide for human rights.

SD: We’ve been visiting with North Dakota United States Senator John Hoeven. Senator, thank you so much for joining us on Agri-Pulse Open Mic.

JH: Thank you Stewart. Enjoyed talking to you.

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