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Committee members sell a farm bill

Members of the House Agriculture Committee, led by Chairman Frank Lucas (R-OK) and the ranking member, Collin Peterson (D-MN) took to the House floor Tuesday to urge a vote for a farm bill.

Reflecting deep divisions over spending on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) some committee Democrats, including Representative Jim McGovern, said they could not support a farm bill that cuts SNAP spending by $20.5 billion over ten years, McGovern, who is co-chair of the House Hunger Caucus, has argued that the cuts to the program known as food stamps would hurt children, one of the largest groups receiving SNAP assistance.

Some Republicans not on the committee, who see SNAP as a welfare program that has ballooned under President Barack Obama, have farm bill amendments waiting that would make it harder to get food stamps--by requiring drug testing or by requiring recipients to work. Or they would turn food stamps into a state-run program.

Lucas and Peterson fought for the delicate bipartisan balance needed to get 218 votes for passage of a farm bill. They urged members of their own parties to get behind a bill that, they said, reflects four years of hearings, oversight and hard work.

"This is the most reform-minded bill in decades," said Lucas, pointing out that it will save $40 billion in federal spending over the next 10 years.

Lucas said his colleagues in Congress ask him why he's so excited about the farm bill. He said he's from a district that suffered during the Dust Bowl of the 1930s and during droughts that were even worse in the 1950s.

"To the day he died, my father was convinced it would never rain again," Lucas recalled. He said he can't do anything about the weather, but his constituents have suffered, too, from bad government policy.

"I ask you to do the right thing. I ask you to avoid the mistakes of the past," he said.

Peterson said the farm bill represents compromise between parties, crops, and regions.

With some 16 million American jobs tied to agriculture, the bill is a jobs bill, he added. "Failing to pass a new five-year farm bill could potentially devastate our rural economy."

Peterson said that the farm bill is much like one he would have supported if he were still chairman, with the exception of the title that covers SNAP.

Peterson doesn't support cutting hundreds of billions of dollars from SNAP, as some Republicans want, but he also disagrees with members of his own party who oppose all cuts to SNAP. "Clearly, there isn't a government program that couldn't stand some reductions," he said.

Republican committee member Mike Conaway of Texas reminded party members who oppose the bill that not passing it means giving up a chance to make more cuts to federal spending. 

"This is a piece of legislation, no an opportunity for theatrics," Conaway said.

"The difference between those who don't support this legislation and those that do is simple," he said. "The first group talks about cutting spending, talks about cutting the deficit, talks about making reforms, talks about reducing the size of government. And the farm bill and its supporters are actually doing these things."

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