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Food Stamps Loom Over Negotiations to Pass U.S. Farm Legislation

October 29, 2013
 
 

 

The farm bill, normally left to rural lawmakers, has emerged as a partisan flashpoint as House Republicans have targeted food stamps for cuts.

Oct. 29 -- U.S. lawmakers meeting tomorrow to reconcile House and Senate versions of agricultural policy legislation will find the table crowded with members who have deeply held and widely divergent views on food stamps.

The tension is underscored by conferees the House leadership has added to the House-Senate negotiating committee: Tea Party Republican Representative Steve Southerland of Florida and Representative Marcia Fudge of Ohio, chairwoman of the all- Democrat Congressional Black Caucus.

With a new law needed before outmoded programs potentially double milk prices early next year, both President Barack Obama and House Republican Majority Leader Eric Cantor have called for passage of a bill. The appointment of conferees from outside traditional rural constituencies -- and who are polar opposites on food stamps -- shows the law may not be the place where a new era of deal-making will dawn.

"It wouldn’t come as any surprise if the nutrition title is the toughest thing to negotiate," said Representative Michael Conaway, a Texas Republican and conferee.

Spending on food stamps, officially known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, is the biggest conflict surrounding the bill, which benefit processors including Archer-Daniels-Midland Co. and insurance companies such as Wells Fargo & Co. along with grocers including SuperValu Inc. By subsidizing food purchases, the farm bill encourages bigger production, while its conservation and economic development programs promote rural business growth and a cleaner environment.

Food Flashpoint

The farm bill, normally left to rural lawmakers, has emerged as a partisan flashpoint as House Republicans have targeted food stamps for cuts.

The Democratic-controlled Senate would cut $4 billion over ten years to food stamps in its farm-bill version. The version passed by the Republican-led House would cut $39 billion over a decade, require work or job training, let states drug test- recipients as a condition of eligibility and set food aid on a different authorization timeline from farm subsidies. That would divorce food stamps from agriculture program, a goal of Tea Party-affiliated groups.

Record Spending

"I know where he stands, he knows where I stand," Fudge said of Southerland. "Obviously we are in very, very different places in our position, but I just hope there will be more reasonable people on the conference, people who understand in a very different way then maybe he does."

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