Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill stressed her support for federal crop insurance legislation and other rural interests Friday while her new Republican challenger, U.S. Rep. Todd Akin, defended his opposition to past farm bills because of their expansive spending on food stamp programs.
McCaskill and Akin both spoke to a political action committee of the Missouri Farm Bureau in their first chance to greet each other since Akin won Missouri's GOP Senate primary on Tuesday. They cordially shook hands and congratulated each other as McCaskill exited and Akin entered the Farm Bureau headquarters in Jefferson City. Out of each other's earshot, however, McCaskill criticized Akin's positions as outside of the mainstream while Akin claimed McCaskill was a rubber stamp for President Barack Obama.
The Missouri Farm Bureau's political committee has traditionally served as one of the first stops for candidates coming off primary victories as they shift their focus to the November general election. The organization has a history of endorsing Republicans for U.S. Senate and governor. Friday was no exception, as Akin received 99 percent of the vote from the PAC, which could translate into cash for his campaign.
McCaskill acknowledged upfront that she was unlikely to win the Farm Bureau's support, but she told the group of a couple hundred farmers that if they would block out the names and party affiliations of the candidates, they would discover that they liked the positions she has taken. She cited her support for the farm bill, which sets policies on federal aid to farmers, highlighted her fight to block the closure of rural post offices and asserted that she "took a two-by-four to the regulators" to stop proposals by Obama's administration on such things as farm dust and child labor on farms.
"I'm going to win this race, and it won't make any difference whether you endorse me or not, because I'm still going to be there fighting for you," McCaskill bluntly told the farm organization.
Akin, who has represented a suburban St. Louis House district for the past dozen years, was asked by a farmer why he has opposed the farm bill, which is up for renewal this year. Akin explained that the majority of the spending in the legislation goes to food stamps and other entitlement programs.
"Most of the farm part of the thing, I'm quite reasonable and pretty comfortable with," said Akin, adding that he understands the need to create stability in agricultural markets. But "I've never been a big fan of the government, and particularly more and more and more growing those programs," such as food subsidies for lower-income families.
House Republican leaders have declined to bring the farm bill to the floor for a vote, fearing that disputes over food stamps would lead to its defeat. The House bill would cut current food stamp spending by about 2 percent, or $1.6 billion, a year. The Senate version, which McCaskill supported, would reduce food stamp spending by about $400 million a year.
McCaskill and Akin also differed somewhat when asked about the federal estate tax, which farmers referred to as the "death tax" at Friday's forum. A Republican plan pending in Congress would maintain the current 35 percent top tax rate paid by people who inherit estates and would not tax the first $5.12 million. A Democratic version would boost the top tax rate to 55 percent, exempting the first $1 million in an estate's value.
McCaskill said she opposed the plan put forth by Democratic leaders, insisting she would not vote for anything that exempts less than the first $5 million in an estate's value and noting that she had co-sponsored a bill that also would have kept the current 35 percent tax rate. Akin said he doesn't support the premise of the estate tax.
"I support keeping the death tax as low as we can get it. Zero would be just about right for me," Akin said to applause.