Senate hopeful Tom Cotton brought his message of a smaller federal government to a group of rural leaders hoping to hear of an expanded investment in the Delta region they represent.
Speaking to the Delta Grassroots Caucus via Skype at Little Rock’s Clinton Library, Republican Cong. Tom Cotton, who is challenging incumbent Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor, discussed his Farm Bill votes, tax reform, reducing federal regulatory authority, and reversing the federal health care law often referred to as Obamacare.
In a dialogue session following his comments, Cotton also fielded questions on his votes regarding the Delta Regional Authority, highway infrastructure funding, ecotourism and income inequality.
Cotton, who picked up the endorsement of former GOP Presidential nominee Mitt Romney on Thursday, replayed previous arguments in outlining his opposition to several versions of the Farm Bill – a Delta staple for the region’s agricultural community. As he has often stated, Cotton said he supported the separation of agricultural programs from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) funding that has long been tied to the Farm Bill.
“I don’t think the Farm Bill is properly titled. I think it should be called the ‘Food Stamp’ bill,” Cotton said, adding that 80% of the eventual Farm Bill funding was food stamp and nutrition related and adds $300 billion in new deficit-financed spending.
When asked if he thought an economic analysis that showed every dollar in SNAP funding results in 1.73 times the return on the investment, Cotton said he was unfamiliar with the study, but did not believe the program was a good long-term solution.
“In general, that’s an example of a so-called multiplier effect,” Cotton said. “The idea that if we take more money from private citizens and funnel it through the government, and then give it to other private citizens it’s going to lead to more economic growth overall. I simply don’t think that’s the way we create long-lasting prosperity.”
When asked about national infrastructure spending – such as highways and rail lines – Cotton said he is supportive overall of the need for federal government spending in these areas, particularly a national road system. However, he opposed what he called wasteful spending, such as for urban light rail systems or highway beautification.
“I don’t think Arkansas taxpayers benefit from paying for big city subways or paying for flowers on the side of highways,” he said.
Cotton fielded a question on the topic of income inequality – sometimes referred to as “equal pay for women.” It’s an issue on which Pryor and several outside spending groups have attacked Cotton.
“I certainly support equal pay for equal work, not just for sexes but across all races and ethnicities and nationalities. That’s been the law of the land for a long time in America and I support that principle,” Cotton said. “I don’t support legislation that would line the pockets of lawyers and make it harder for all Americans – men, women of all ethnicities and nationalities – to get a job because it ties up employers as they’re trying to hire or manage their workforce.”
In a follow-up asked later, Cotton once again addressed the equal pay issue after a pointed question suggested his position would hurt job creation.
“I don’t accept the premise of your question. I have not voted against equal pay. I’m not sure of the exact vote to which you are referring,” Cotton said, noting that he has voted on a procedural motion but not a specific bill. “More importantly,as I said [earlier], I support equal pay, not just along the sexes but for all Americans for equal work. What I don’t support is legislation that would empower trial lawyers to file more frivolous lawsuits to drive up the cost of employment for everyone costing jobs for Arkansans.”
One of Cotton’s toughest questions centered on his vote to eliminate the Delta Regional Authority (DRA), a decade-old commission that works in the eight-state region of the U.S. Delta to spark economic and health improvements. Many members of the Delta Grassroots Caucus are overwhelmingly supportive of the agency and its work.
Cotton said DRA elimination was a line-item in one of the reduced budget bills he supported earlier this year. The budget bill also decommissioned several other similar groups in other parts of the country.
“Right now, I don’t think Arkansans are getting a good return on their investment,” Cotton said. “They’re getting about one percent, or a little bit less, of all the money the federal government spends on those commissions – much of which is being spent on administration, expenses and other overhead.”
“I strongly support the projects the organizations like the DRA funds, but I think that Arkansans can get a little bit better return on their tax dollars when you look at the amount of money we’re spending on regional commissions all across the country.”
PRYOR CAMPAIGN ATTACKS
The Pryor for Senate campaign was clearly plugged into Cotton’s remarks.
During the 30-minute Skype conversation, Pryor spokesman Grant Herring issued four press releases, one of which noted that Cotton was the only Arkansas Congressman who voted against the final Farm Bill.
The Pryor camp also singled out Cotton as the only Arkansas federal official to vote for the elimination of the DRA.
“This is another example of Congressman Cotton ignoring the needs of Arkansans and putting the future of the Delta economy in jeopardy,” Herring’s press release said.
It also included a comment from Sen. Mark Pryor, who will speak to the Delta Grassroots Caucus on Friday morning.
“Maybe Congressman Cotton thinks he knows better than our Delta families or maybe he isn’t listening, either way his irresponsible vote to eliminate a crucial economic lifeline for Arkansas’ Delta region says a lot about about his priorities,” said Pryor. “Families in Arkansas deserve every chance to get ahead, and our state deserves a senator who puts Arkansas first. That’s why I’ve worked with Republicans and Democrats to bring investments and growth to our Delta communities, partnerships that attract private enterprise and bring good jobs to Arkansas.”
Pryor’s campaign also highlighted Cotton’s opposition to the Paycheck Fairness Act. The press release included the procedural vote Cotton referenced and included quotes from a Cotton spokesperson who restated the Congressman’s position of opposing the proposed law but supporting equal pay “as is already required by law.”
The Pryor campaign also noted a missed vote last September by Cotton on an effort to loosen regulations so the Delta Queen, a historical touring river steamboat, could travel overnight on the Mississippi River. The bill was handily approved by the House and Cotton had stated he had a previous commitment to a fundraiser in Texas on the evening of the vote. The Senate has not voted on the measure despite its House passage nearly nine months ago.
Cotton told the Delta group that he was supportive of the measure and hoped the Senate would eventually act on the bill.