Amendments would take food-stamp funding out of farm bill

Giuseppe Macri Tech Editor
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A pair of amendments proposed by a congressional tea party favorite would cut food-stamp funding from the 2013 farm bill.

Republican Rep. Marlin Stutzman of Indiana proposed the amendments Monday to the five-year farm bill, splitting food-stamp policy from the rest of the bill, creating what he described as a “farm-only” farm bill.

“For too long this Congress has combined farm policy and nutrition policy and what we have now is a bill that spends $740 billion on food stamps and $200 billion on farm policy. This shouldn’t be the case,” Stutzman told the House Rules Committee Tuesday.

“Most Americans are shocked to learn that about 80 percent of the farm bill’s spending goes to Washington’s out-of-control food stamp program,” Stutzman said in a statement released Monday. “With our nation nearly $17 trillion in debt, the American people deserve an open, transparent debate, and that can only happen when Washington stops playing games with deceptively named spending bills.”

If adopted, the amendment would overturn years of farm policy precedent — a change many conservative think tanks and action groups on Capitol Hill support.

Food-stamp funding is tied to farm subsidies for no reason other than classic “log-rolling” policy passage, said Andrew Moylan, senior fellow from the non-profit think-tank R Street. Representatives from urban liberal districts vote for the bill because of its food-stamp spending, while those from conservative rural areas vote for the farm subsidies.

The result, Moylan said, is that both get through without any real changes, while both would stand a better chance of significant reform if they were legislated separately.

Stutzman’s amendments filed Monday come less than a week after House Speaker John Boehner came out in surprising support of the $1 trillion House version of the bill. The Senate passed its own $900 billion-plus version the same day.

“I’m going to vote for the farm bill to make sure that the good work of the Agriculture Committee and whatever the floor might do to improve this bill gets to a conference so that we can get the kind of changes that people want in our nutrition programs and in our farm programs,” the Republican speaker from Ohio said last week.

The House version of the bill has already sustained a controversial $20.5 billion cut to food stamps, alienating the Democratic caucus, of which the latest whip count for the vote was a shaky 50 “yays,” according to The Hill newspaper.

Boehner’s camp will need every vote from both sides of the aisle he can get, as the latest conservative whip count left him with roughly half of his caucus in support, with the rest holding out for even steeper food stamp cuts.

The 2013 farm bill is already one year overdue. Boehner declined to bring it to the House floor last year for risk of further weakening his support from the tea party Republicans that abandoned and nearly unseated him following the “fiscal cliff” negotiations.

Stutzman is a tea party favorite, who rode into the House on the wave that wrested control from Democrats in 2010.

“Right now, this trillion dollar spending package is a farm bill in name only. Congress must remove welfare provisions from the farm bill and give taxpayers the honest debate they deserve on both,” Stutzman said. “It’s simple: food stamp policy isn’t farm policy.”

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