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House committee takes up farm bill
The House Agriculture Committee began considering its version of a farm bill Wednesday, with some 100 amendments stacked on the table in the committee's hearing room. Staffers working for Chairman Frank Lucas (R-OK) told Agriculture Online that Lucas hopes to finish consideration of the bill today, even if it means continuing the session late into the evening.
The Senate passed its farm bill last month, giving Lucas and the ranking minority member Collin Peterson (D-MN) more support for urging a reluctant leadership of the House to bring their bill to a vote on the floor. Farm lobbyists are urging passage of a new farm bill this year, but privately giving it poor odds as the election season heats up.
A key difference between the House and Senate bills is that the House version cuts food stamp spending by more than $16 billion over the next 10 years, much above the $4 billion cut in the Senate bill. Some Democrats on House Ag Committee have said they intend to vote against the committee's bill due to the size of food stamp cuts.
"This bill is a culmination of years of work," Lucas said in his opening statement. He pointed out that the total savings of the bill is more than $35 billion, which also includes $14 billion cut from the farm safety net.
Like the Senate bill, it repeals direct payments. Lucas has been a supporter in the past, but this year there are no sacred cows, he said.
It also cuts the conservation title. "This is a title that has been close to my heart for a long time," he said. It saves $6 billion from that title, in part by consolidating 23 programs into 13.
Lucas said that families who qualify for food stamps under USDA's rules of eligibility based on income still would be able to get that nutrition assistance under the farm bill's cuts. The bill would no longer allow states to sign people up for food stamps through other programs for low-income Americans if they don't meet the food stamp income eligibility rules.
Peterson said he remained concerned about the committee's approach to food stamp cuts, "however the bottom line is we need to move farm legislation."
The committee started debate by considering amendments to the commodity title. It rejected major changes to
the bill's dairy and sugar programs but added a requirement that USDA consider the workload level at a Farm Service Agency office before it can close that office. That amendment sponsored by Representatives Leonard Boswell (D-IA) and Rick Crawford (R-AR) was prompted by the way USDA has closed FSA offices.
After an impassioned debate over the cuts in food stamp spending, the committee voted against an amendment by Representative Jim McGovern of Massachusetts and six other Democrats to remove the $16 billion in reductions to food stamp spending over 10 years. All of the committee's Republicans voted against the McGovern amendment, as well as the ranking Democrat, Peterson, and four other Democrats on the committee.
Representative Kurt Schrader (D-OR) offered another amendment that would have substituted the Senate's smaller cuts of about $4 billion to House bill's nutrition title. It was also voted down, mostly along party lines, with four Democrats against it and one Republican, Christopher Gibson, voting for it.
The committee recessed at 3 p.m. EDT so that members could vote on a bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act known as Obamacare.