Sen. Johnson moves to isolate food stamp spending from farm bill

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Wisconsin Republican Sen. Ron Johnson has introduced a motion to send the Agriculture, Reform, Food and Jobs Act back to committee and divide it into two separate bills to be considered in two separate votes.

The move comes in part as a response to the fact that about 80 percent of spending in the current farm bill is set to go to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, food stamps. Crop insurance, commodities and conservation represents the remaining 20 percent of spending.

Johnson’s motion would divide the legislation into one bill that includes food assistance and another focused on the agricultural provisions.

“[The farm bill] is a great example of what’s wrong in Washington. Decades ago someone realized that combining food stamps and agriculture programs together in one bill is a great way to pass both with a minimum of debate and controversy,” Johnson said in a statement Tuesday. “That’s the only reason these unrelated provisions are linked today.”

In the last four years the food stamp program has doubled in size, quadrupling since 2001. In the 1970s, one in 50 Americans were on food stamps, but today the number is one in seven. After the recession that figure is expected to be drop to one in nine Americans, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

Republicans have used the farm bill as an opportunity to introduce reforms aimed at confronting the expanding cost and participation in the food stamp program — arguing the expansion is due to policy not necessity.

The Democrat-controlled Senate has voted down amendments to confront the swelling rolls, notably those introduced by Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul and Alabama Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions, arguing that their reforms could limit access to those in need.

The motion is scheduled for debate and a vote late Wednesday. The conservative Americans for Prosperity has sent an alert to Senate offices encouraging them to vote on, among others, the measure, as a so-called “key-vote.”

“Vote YES on the Ron Johnson motion to recommit. The motion would send the bill back to the Agriculture Committee with instructions to strike Title IV—the title dealing with food stamps (SNAP) and other nutrition programs,” AFP said in its alert. “SNAP, a massive welfare program that consumes almost 80% of total Farm Bill spending, doesn’t belong in this bill and deserves its own treatment in separate legislation. No more rolling massive programs together to secure votes and shield programs from much-needed reform.”

According to Johnson, the motion would not alter the legislation’s substance but merely shift the content into two votes, ostensibly for more transparency.

Update: The motion was defeated Wednesday afternoon in a vote of 59-40.

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