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Published January 13, 2014, 09:32 AM

Prioritizing the farm bill in 2014

As we reflect on the highs and lows of 2013, we begin to chart a course for the start of a new year

By: John Thune, Agweek

As we reflect on the highs and lows of 2013, we begin to chart a course for the start of a new year. Theodore Roosevelt once said, “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” While the partisan divides of Washington remain a barrier to stimulating the lagging economy and reining in federal spending, more can be done in the new year to solve short-term problems and achieve long-term goals that will keep America secure and financially stable.

South Dakota ranchers and farmers are in urgent need of a new five-year farm bill. An unfinished farm bill creates uncertainty for agriculture producers, ag-related businesses, consumers, rural economies and the stewardship of our land and water. Numerous western South Dakota ranchers were hard-hit by the early October snowstorm, many losing high percentages of their breeding herds, as well as the current year’s calf crop. The passage of a five-year farm bill, including the livestock disaster programs, will provide critically important economic assistance to these producers. I will continue to work with my colleagues on the Senate Agriculture Committee and members of the conference committee to ensure the passage of a defensible five-year farm bill.

Congress needs to create incentives for good jobs through a pro-growth tax structure. Comprehensive tax reform can make American businesses more competitive in the global economy and can benefit families who are dealing with a growing and increasingly complex tax code. Tax reform can also help to address our ever-expanding budget deficit by unleashing economic activity that will ultimately raise federal tax receipts, even at lower tax rates. I will continue my work in the tax-writing Senate Finance Committee to fight for a tax structure that will create wealth and improve take-home pay for the people of our state and nation.

The new year holds important opportunities for our men and women stationed at Ellsworth Air Force Base. The Air Force record of decision is expected to reach a conclusion on the expansion of the Powder River Training Complex by March. This would be the largest terrestrial airspace training range expansion in U.S. history. Following my request for a swift decision, the Federal Aviation Administration and the Air Force are currently working together to finalize the FAA record of decision by this summer.

For two years, Hot Springs’ Black Hills Health Care System has been waiting in limbo for the Department of Veterans Affairs to reach a decision on the future of the VA facility. On Dec. 13, I sent a letter along with Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D., and Representative Kristi Noem, R-S.D., to VA Secretary Eric Shinseki calling for him to return Hot Springs’ BHHCS to full operation following the lack of leadership and breach of good faith by the VA over the past two years. I will continue to work with the Hot Springs community and stakeholders to fight for the VA to withdraw its proposal to reconfigure the BHHCS and return the Hot Springs VA campus to its former levels of operation and staff.

While we are certain to face many challenges in the new year, the year also holds the promise of new opportunities to improve conditions in South Dakota and around the country. I look forward to new opportunities to serve South Dakota in the coming year and wish all South Dakotans a happy, safe, and healthy new year.

Editor’s note: Thune is a U.S. Senator from South Dakota. This opinion ran in the Mitchell (S.D.) Daily Republic on Jan 2.

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