U.S. Rep. Chris Murphy has a long voting record in Congress that’s been under scrutiny from his opponents this election cycle. This week Republican Linda McMahon took aim at his vote against legislation to aid Midwestern farmers suffering through a drought.
Sometimes having legislative experience is as much a liability as it is selling point in campaigns. That’s been the case this year for Murphy in his bid for U.S. Senate. During primary season his Democratic challenger Susan Bysiewicz focused much of her campaign on Murphy’s vote against a bill that would have, among other things, closed a loophole for hedge fund managers.
The McMahon campaign has also criticized Murphy for voting twice against legislation containing his amendment giving American companies a fair shot at landing a government contract.
In both cases Murphy defended his vote, citing other provisions within the legislation that he could not support.
On Tuesday the McMahon campaign sent out a statement calling attention to Murphy’s vote against another bill that included a provision that he’s supported publicly. The bill sends drought relief to Midwestern farmers.
While touring a farm in Wallingford on Wednesday, McMahon said it’s becoming a pattern for Murphy to say he wants something and then to vote against it.
“He had a press conference this past Sunday with Gov. Malloy touting this whole farm bill — let’s get it on the floor, let’s debate — and yet he had the opportunity to vote in Congress for the drought relief which he voted against when 20 some other Democrats voted for it,” McMahon said.
“I just think that Congressman Murphy says what he thinks is necessary to get elected,” she added.
But it’s more complicated than that.
The drought relief bill has become a political football in Congress. Democrats consider it to be political cover for House Republicans wary of raising the five-year comprehensive farm bill passed by the Senate. Some conservatives are expected to oppose the comprehensive farm bill because of the money it spends on the food stamp program.
However, the McMahon campaign points to comments made by the top Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee, U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, who told Agri-Pulse he didn’t think the passage of the drought relief bill would prevent the farm bill from getting to the floor in September.
“Someone should tell Congressman Murphy that the U.S. House of Representatives did bring a bill up for debate dealing with drought relief, which they actually passed, and he voted “NO,” Corry Bliss, McMahon’s campaign manager, said.
Asked about it Wednesday, Murphy said there was more wrong with the bill than its potential impact on the farm bill.
“That bill would have solved one crisis and created another. It gutted nutrition funding and conservation funding in order to fund disaster relief. The bill was a non-starter in the U.S. Senate and a non-starter with the Connecticut delegation because it would have resulted in kids going hungry and our farms not having access to needed conservation dollars,” Murphy said.
Though the drought relief bill passed the House 223-197, Democrats largely opposed it, voting 151-35 against.
As he was explaining his vote against a defense spending bill earlier in the month, Murphy said that having to vote against legislation with provisions he supports is a reality that comes with being a member of the minority party.
“When you’re a minority member of the House of Representatives you don’t control what’s in the bill so you spend time trying to make the bills better, even if they’re not good enough in the end,” he said.
Asked if she would ever vote against legislation that contained provisions she supported, McMahon said she wasn’t willing to speculate about hypothetical scenarios. But she said she would be a practical, common sense lawmaker.
“I will not always vote with my party, because I’m an independent thinker and I’ll evaluate proposed legislation on its merits and vote to the best of my ability,” she said.
McMahon spent the day “being educated” by farmers about issues impacting their businesses. In Wallingford, she heard from Joe Geremia, who in 2010 was honored as the Outstanding Young Farmer of the year.
Geremia has outfitted his sprawling greenhouse operation with advanced, energy-efficient watering and heating systems, including a boiler that burns wood chips. The boiler has reduced his heating costs and was part of an investment in his farm that was going to either make or break his business at the time.
In the end, the investment worked out. But Geremia said farmers making technological upgrades have to worry about the passage of laws that could ban the equipment in which they’ve invested. For instance, though his boiler complies with federal emissions regulations, state lawmakers could decide to pass their own regulations.
He said legislators should really look at and understand the science and technology of farming equipment before passing laws that risk negatively impacting businesses.
McMahon compared the process of writing laws to that of a lawyer trying to write a contract. You try to think of every eventuality and all the things that could go wrong and address them, she said.
“At some point you say this is a good deal and you sign off on it,” she said.
As for the potential passage of the farm bill, Murphy said he wants to see a debate of the bill on the House floor. Through amendments the House could pass a compromised bill that would get both GOP and Democratic support, he said.
“I can’t imagine that Republicans are going to go home in October without bringing the farm bill up for debate on the House floor,” Murphy said.