LITTLE ROCK — U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor criticized the Republican-back House farm bill and reiterated his support of the Affordable Care Act on Thursday, two days after drawing a GOP challenger that favored splitting the farm legislation and counts repealing Obamacare among his top priorities in Congress.
Pryor, the lone Democrat in Arkansas’ congressional delegation, was in Little Rock for appearances two days after freshman Congressman Tom Cotton, R-Dardanelle, announced he would challenge Pryor’s bid for a third Senate term. Pryor drew no Republican opponent when he ran for re-election in 2008 but is now being targeted by Republicans for defeat.
Speaking to business leaders at the headquarters of the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce, Pryor said the version of the farm bill approved by the House is "bad policy and bad politics."
He said that including funding for the nutrition program known as SNAP in the farm bill "makes good policy sense" and that the House-approved version, which strips out SNAP funding and which Cotton voted for after voting against a version that included money for SNAP, is "unpassable in the Senate."
"Tough times require tough decisions," he said. "That’s the kind of senator I’ve always tried to be."
Pryor also defended his vote for the federal health care overhaul, one of the areas where Republicans see him as vulnerable. Cotton supports repealing the law, which he has called a job killer.
"I came to the conclusion that the Affordable Care Act was the right thing for Arkansas," Pryor said. "I think you can look and see it’s already starting to work."
He said about 500,000 currently uninsured Arkansans are expected to obtain insurance through the new health insurance exchange, or about one-sixth of the state’s population. He also cited a study by the Rand Corporation that said the health care expansion would create more than 6,000 jobs in Arkansas.
"This bill isn’t killing jobs. This bill is creating jobs," he said.
One of the ways the law benefits consumers, Pryor said, is that hospitals now must have their quality outcomes ranked in a transparent manner. He said Conway officials, who scored well on their quality measures, are promoting the rankings.
"That’s huge because it creates consumer choice," he said.
Pryor also said gridlock in the nation’s capital, which he said he has tried to break through, has created too much uncertainty in America and is a drag on the economy.
But Pryor also said recent economic data is showing gains: Factory activity is growing at a faster pace during the past two years, exports are up, home sales are improving and Moody’s recently restored the country’s credit rating to AAA, he said.
He said new jobs announcements in Arkansas, such as expansions by Bad Boy Mowers of Batesville and Remington Arms of Lonoke, are more signals of an improving business climate.
Advocating for more domestic energy development, Pryor said that while he’s not happy about the Mayflower oil spill, he still supports pipeline infrastructure as the safest, most reliable, most cost-effective transportation route for the nation’s fuel supply. He advocated an "all of the above" policy on energy production, saying he supports clean coal, natural gas, solar and nuclear power development.
Earlier in the day, Pryor discussed the IRS controversy during an interview on television station KARK. He said liberal groups as well as conservative groups were targeted for audits but added that "the IRS should never play politics."
He also said his brand of politics, which he described as "bipartisan," is attractive to voters.
"People tell me they like my approach to politics," said Pryor, who noted he’s passed more than 60 bills during his Senate tenure. "I’m up there trying to find solutions."
Arkansas News Bureau business columnist Roby Brock contributed to this report.