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Farm Bill Fight Over SNAP Cuts Previewed in Markup

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Lucas said he believes the House Agriculture Commitee has come up with a farm bill that will get bipartisan support, even as it reduces spending on the Supplmental Nutrition Assistance Program.

The nation’s largest domestic food aid program should not be the item that sinks the House farm bill when it reaches the floor in June, Agriculture Committee leaders say.

Just as with last year’s attempt at a farm program reauthorization, some conservatives say the bill’s proposed cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, amounting to $20.5 billion over 10 years, do not go far enough, while many Democrats say they are too much.

Agriculture Chairman Frank D. Lucas, R-Okla., said this year’s bill (HR 1947) tries to restrain SNAP’s growth and to focus more on people living at 130 percent of the federal poverty level.

“I like to think we have a well-balanced bill and that we can draw from all sides. The extremes will never support us. I think we have enough of a coalition,” Lucas said Wednesday, shortly after his committee approved the five-year farm bill on a 36-10 vote.

Ranking member Collin C. Peterson of Minnesota, who said changes need to be made to SNAP, would not comment on how much support he could muster from House Democrats. However, Peterson said, “We have the middle ground. I worked with Frank on this. He thinks he has what he needs to get the bill through his caucus.”

Even so, committee Democrats, led by Rep. Jim McGovern of Massachusetts, fell short in two attempts to block the proposed spending cuts to SNAP. In the effort, McGovern irked some Farm Belt colleagues by questioning the integrity of the federal crop insurance program.

One of his amendments would have delayed the SNAP cuts until the error rate of the federally subsidized crop insurance program matches the error rate for SNAP.

But Rep. Austin Scott, R-Ga., said the crop insurance program is smaller than SNAP, which constitutes more than 70 percent of farm bill spending. The Congressional Budget Office estimates the federal government’s share of premium costs for the insurance program will average about $9 billion a year; SNAP costs will decline but average more than $70 billion a year.

Illinois GOP Rep. Rodney Davis said challenging crop insurance was “an attack on the Midwest farmer. Let’s not single out one certain program that is essential to the Midwest.”

McGovern shot back: “SNAP has been singled out in this bill.”

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