Congresswoman Cheri Bustos visited Monmouth College on Tuesday, September 7, 2021 to speak at the fifth-annual Wiswell-Robeson Lecture to discuss the future of rural America. Bustos represents the 117th district and is a member of the House Agriculture Committee and a member of the House Appropriation Committee.
The conversation on the direction of rural America comes at a time when members of Congress are negotiating the Democrat led reconciliation bill. The process of reconciliation is complex and governed by the Byrd Rule, named after former Senator Robert Byrd D-W. Va. according to NPR. Reconciliation is used when a 60 vote majority cannot be achieved in the Senate and an item will change government spending.
“I’ve never heard anybody bring up the word ‘reconciliation’. You know that’s what this process is called, to pass this bill that we’re going to be voting on, that we are now calling the Build Back Better Act. When you’re in Washington everybody calls it ‘reconciliation’, the ‘reconciliation bill’. Nobody at home says that… so let’s call it something people can understand” said Congresswoman Bustos.
The House is expected to vote on a $1 trillion bi-partisan infrastructure bill on September 27, although it could face trouble if House Democrats cannot reach a compromise on the proposed $3.5 trillion Build Back Better Act.
“The infrastructure bill that we’ll be voting on…will really change the way we navigate getting to work, moving our goods, running our small businesses. It will be the single largest investment in our nation’s infrastructure since post-World-War II… We will be addressing our roads, our bridges, our locks and dams, our clean water delivery to homes, rural broadband. Making sure that if you’re a small business in a small town, that you don’t have to worry about having broadband. Or if you’re driving through some of the back roads, that we are making sure that we can make cell-phone calls and not lose the service…” said Bustos
According to The White House.gov, the current Build Back Better agenda includes plans to lower child care costs, lower higher education costs by providing two years of free community college, and lower prescription drug and healthcare costs. The Build Back Better agenda also includes plans to cut taxes for families with children by extending the child tax credit increase and extending the increase to the earned-income tax credit for workers without children. The Biden administration claims this will help over 17 million low-wage workers, many of which were essential workers during Covid-19 lockdowns.
Bustos said: “The bigger bill… is basically taking the New deal from the Franklin Roosevelt Era after the Depression and looking at here we are in 2021 and how does the New Deal look today. How kids go to public school, instead of the traditional K-12 we are basically looking at 3 or 4 year-olds going to school and then after 12th grade then you can have 13th and 14th grades. And that’s all part of our public school system under this expanded bill… It is really taking a look at how to make things work better for families”
Being the only member of elected Democratic House Leadership from the Midwest, Congresswoman Bustos advocates for policy that will benefit rural America. Bustos lives in Moline, Illinois, and come from a family of farmers.
“Almost everybody in House leadership is coastal and almost everybody comes from bigger cities. I’ve never lived in a major metropolitan city in my life. I’ve never lived in Chicago. I’ve never lived in L.A.. I’ve never lived in New York… a vast majority of the towns in this congressional district are smaller towns.” said Bustos “I use it as an opportunity to talk about agriculture, to talk about rural Illinois, to take back with me conversations I’ve had with people”
One bill that Bustos has proposed is the bi-partisan young farmers bill. The proposed bill is meant to address the USDA experience requirement to help young people that want to go into farming get started.
“There are ways from a tax perspective that we can incentivize people who want to go into agriculture to make sure that they have an opportunity to go into agriculture” said Bustos
“I met with a Monmouth College graduate from the class of 2010, Dusty Spurgeon, who runs a 10 acre farm in Rio [IL] and she has a community sustainability agriculture program where she has neighbors who pay into [it] and that is how she makes her living”
Bustos announced that she will not be running for re-election after this term after serving since 2013.
When asked if she could give one piece of advice to college students Bustos responded with: “Don’t be afraid to leave your comfort zone and when opportunities come up that are a little scary, as long as they’re ethical, say yes to them. That’s how I ended up in congress.”
Erin Henkel – Opinions Editor