Jul 9 2012

House Ag Committee’s farm bill cuts SNAP, breaks deal, should be opposed

I’m in Europe trying to keep up with the farm bill from afar.  The House Ag Committee has come up with a a 557-page “discussion draft” of what it cutely calls the Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management (FARRM) Act.

Its stated purposes are to (1) cut spending, (2) reduce the size of government, and (3) “make common-sense reforms to agricultural policy.”

The first two make the third goal an oxymoron.  I don’t see how #3 is possible, given #1 and #2.

Unlike the Senate version, the House bill:

  • Cuts current spending by $35 billion over 10 years (as compared to the Senate’s $23 billion or so).
  • Takes the difference out of SNAP (food stamps).  The proposed cut is $16 billion compared to $4.5 billion in the Senate version, an action that is ostensibly supposed to improve “program integrity and accountability.”

As Politico puts it, the House is

demanding deeper cuts from nutrition programs for the poor while embracing a greater government role in supporting farmers — something that won’t sit well with tea party conservatives.

Virtually all of that difference is explained by the much larger savings from food stamps — a $16 billion-plus package that triples what the Senate approved and imposes tougher income and asset tests that will disqualify hundreds of thousands of working-class households now getting aid.

The proposed deep cuts to SNAP are shocking for two reasons:

  • The harm they will do to low-income households
  • The breach in the long-standing deal that put SNAP in the farm bill in the first place

SNAP is in the farm bill because rural states needed the votes of urban states to pass subsidies and other supports for Big Ag producers of commodities.

This deal worked for states with large numbers of urban poor.  If their representatives voted for farm supports, farm-state representatives would vote for SNAP benefits.

This was classic logrolling.

Is the deal now breaking down?   Is Congress really willing to sacrifice benefits to the poor to maintain benefits for Big Ag?

According to The Hill, the House cuts are nothing but political posturing:

Rep. Collin Peterson (Minn.), the top Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee, agreed to the cuts as a pragmatic way of moving forward with legislation important to rural lawmakers.

In an interview with The Hill, he said much of the cuts would be restored in a conference with the Senate.

…Peterson said he would have made different reforms to food stamps, and had offered an alternative plan to the GOP that was rejected. He defended his decision to back the final product as both pragmatic and politically savvy.

“It is what had to be done in order to get through committee and through the House floor,” he said.

Pragmatic and politically savvvy?  Let’s hope he’s right.

Anti-hunger advocates, however, are taking no chances.  They gathered in Washington this week to oppose the cuts.

This is a critical time.  Add your voice!