Farm bill or food stamps? Congress must decide vexing issue

Do you want to do away with food stamps or have a new farm bill? That's the question congressional leaders have to address between now and Sept. 30.

By now, most have heard the House defeated the Federal Agricultural Reform and Risk Management Act of 2013, also known as the new farm bill, by a vote of 195-234. It was the first time the House had ever voted down a farm bill.

You’ve probably read about the accusations flying back and forth between Democrats and Republicans about who was responsible for the negative vote on the legislation, which passed the House Agriculture Committee on a bipartisan vote.

House Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., have said last-minute defections by several Democrats led to the defeat of the measure, which Boehner voted for after spending a year refusing to bring it to the House floor. Cantor and other Republicans haven’t talked about why those Democrats “walked away.”

A few minutes before the final vote, Rep. Steve Southerland, R-Fla., introduced an amendment that applied federal welfare work requirements to the food stamp program, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP. The amendment basically said food stamp recipients either had to be working or looking for work. The amendment passed 227-198.

What’s wrong with that? Well, it sounds good on the surface. But what about the farmers who have their employees sign up for food stamps when harvest is completed? In many rural communities, there are no jobs to look for or certainly none that would allow employees to return to the farm in the spring.

And what about those who lost their jobs in 2008 and finally gave up looking because the economy has been slower to recover than in any other modern recession? Democrats who were already concerned about the FARMM bill’s $20.5 billion cut in SNAP benefits told Rep. Collin Peterson, the House Agriculture Committee’s ranking Democrat, they couldn’t vote for the final bill.

All but one of the 62 Republican House members who voted against the farm bill voted for the Southerland amendment.

It’s no secret many Tea Party-backed members of Congress want to reduce the size of the federal government, and they see food stamps as a step toward that goal even though food stamp spending is less than 1 percent of the federal budget.

They cite the growth of food stamp spending to $81 billion in the last four years as reason for reducing outlays. They don’t mention that growth occurred during one of the longest recessions in this country’s history or that highly profitable companies (such as Wal-Mart) have cut wages or reduced hours so that many employees have to apply for food stamps to feed their families.

Democrats won’t vote for additional cuts to the program. And 62 Republican members believe the cuts weren’t deep enough. So it looks like we’re either going to have to get rid of food stamps or forego a new farm bill and let the 1949 permanent law take effect. Some choice, huh?



TAGS: Legislative
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