WASHINGTON -- The House Agriculture Committee on Thursday unveiled its approach for a long-term farm and food bill that would reduce spending by $3.5 billion a year, almost half of that coming from cuts in the federal food stamp program.
The legislative draft envisions reducing current food stamp spending projections by $1.6 billion a year, four times the amount of cuts incorporated in the five-year, half-trillion-dollar farm bill passed by the Senate last month.
Food stamps, formally known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, look to be the most contentious issue when the Agriculture Committee begins voting on the bill Wednesday and when the full House begins debating it in the future.
Conservatives in the Republican-led House are certain to demand greater cuts in the food stamps program, which makes up about 80 percent of the nearly $100 billion a year in spending under the farm bill. Senate Democrats are equally certain to resist more cuts in a program that now helps feed 46 million people, 1 out of every 7 Americans.
"Underfunding this critically important program when families temporarily rely on it to put food on the table in a tough economy is irresponsible and inhumane," said Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., a food stamp advocate in the House. The Agriculture Committee said its bill would strengthen the program's integrity while better targeting assistance to those in need of it.
The House proposal, like the Senate measure that passed on a bipartisan 64-35 vote, also does away with the much-criticized direct payment system whereby farmers get federal assistance even when they don't plant a crop. Both put greater emphasis on crop insurance to help farmers get through natural disasters and falling prices.
The House bill differs, though, in giving farmers a one-time choice between a revenue loss program to cover shallow losses before insurance kicks in and a new target price program to see producers through deep, multiple-year price declines. The Senate bill contains only the revenue loss program, overriding the objections of Southern rice and peanut growers who have traditionally relied more heavily on price support programs.
The two chambers are in a race to reach a compromise before Sept. 30, when the current farm bill expires.
House GOP leaders have shown little enthusiasm for taking up the farm bill because of resistance from conservatives to the bill's price tag, but the Agriculture Committee's chairman, Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Okla., and top Democrat, Rep. Collin Peterson of Minnesota, stressed its importance.
Lucas said the bill, which is the result of two years' work, "is reform-minded, fiscally responsible policy that is equitable for farmers and ranchers in all regions." Peterson said that by failing to act before the September deadline, "We jeopardize one of the economic bright spots of our nation's fragile economy."
Sen. Debby Stabenow, D-Mich., the chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee, said the Senate bill "represents the most significant reform of American agriculture policy in decades" and that she was "very concerned" about some of the differences between the Senate and House legislation.
Stabenow cited the food stamp issue, saying the House bill "takes far greater cuts in food assistance by changing eligibility rules so that some people truly in need will not receive the help their family needs."
The legislation, in addition to setting commodity support and nutrition policy, also authorize conservation, trade, foreign food aid, rural development, forestry and energy programs.
While the bills cover five years, the Congressional Budget Office measures their effects over 10 years, and in that time period the House bill would save taxpayers more than $35 billion, the Senate bill $23 billion. The House savings come from trimming about $14 billion in the commodity support programs, $6 billion by consolidating 23 conservation programs into 13 and $16 billion from food stamps. Savings in the Senate bill are similar for commodities and conservation but $12 billion less from food stamps.
The Senate derives its food stamp savings mainly by cracking down on fraud and on a practice of some states of giving households as little as $1 a year in heating assistance, even when they don't directly pay for heating, to make them eligible for increased food benefits. The House also stops this practice while restricting a system wherein states can provide food benefits to those whose assets exceed legal limits for food stamps as long as they receive some other welfare benefit. It ends Agriculture Department bonus payments to states that increase food stamp registrations.
The Congressional Budget Office, in its analysis of the Senate bill, estimated that the $4.5 billion saved over 10 years by curbing the heating assistance link to food stamps would result in nearly 500,000 households each year having their monthly food stamps reduced by an average of $90, nearly one-third of what they receive.
"America's children, seniors and 1.5 million veteran households facing a constant struggle against hunger deserve better from Congress," Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., who led Senate efforts to block food stamps cuts, said of the House bill.
The House measure, like its Senate counterpart, leaves intact a program that protects sugar producers from foreign competition and creates a new subsidized insurance program for cotton. It does not include several amendments attached to the Senate bill, including one that required those getting subsidized crop insurance to comply with conservation requirements and another that reduce by 15 percentage points the share of crop insurance premiums the government pays for farmers with adjusted gross incomes of more than $750,000. Currently the government bears an average 62 percent of crop insurance premiums.
The House bill also contains a provision, passed separately by the House last year, that eliminates a requirement that farmers obtain additional pesticide application permits under the Clean Water Act.
John Shadegg Wields A Baby
In this past weekend's health care debate, Arizona Republican John Shadegg bravely opened a new frontier by <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/11/10/jon-stewart-mocks-use-of_n_351911.html">using a live baby as a visual aid</a> to complain about health care reform. The infant, Maddie, was introduced as Shadegg's grand-daughter, which Shadegg quickly corrected, saying, "I wish this <i>was</i> my granddaughter." I wish most Congresspersons demonstrated Maddie's level of cognitive development, but no!
Alan Grayson Warns We Will All Die Slowly
Florida Democrat Alan Grayson made headlines when he took to the well of the House of Representatives<a href="http://airamerica.com/politics/10-27-2009/grayson/"> to warn that the GOP health care plan</a> was for all of the nation's uninsured to DIE QUICKLY! But not so quick that you miss all of the manufactured suspense as Grayson flipped through his poster boards.
Tom Latham Regifts The Chinese
Iowa Republican Tom Latham hates him some cap and trade. So much that he <a href="http://www.realclearpolitics.com/politics_nation/2009/06/latham_brings_props_to_house_f.html">decided to box up a hard hat</a> with the words "American Jobs" written on it and send it to China, as a gift. How thoughtful! And all we've gotten in return is a mess of poisonous toys.
Peter Roskam's Into Bondage
Illinois Republican Peter Roskam took a look at the health care bill and saw handcuffs. And "not figurative handcuffs," <a href="http://hotair.com/archives/2009/11/09/video-if-obamacare-is-so-good/">Roskam said</a>, "actual criminal penalties." So, you <i>do</i> mean figurative handcuffs? Anyway, it's a good thing David Vitter sits in the U.S. Senate, because he would have probably been a little inappropriately interested in this presentation.
Michele Bachmann Get's Lei'd
Minnesota Republican Michele Bachmann made the acquaintance of some hula dancing Teabaggers from Hawaii, and they brought her a lei, which Bachmann herself could obtain at the airport in Hawaii, were it not for the fact that she believes planes cannot fly over water without the use of witchcraft. Anyway, <a href="http://minnesotaindependent.com/49288/bachmann-lei-health-care-steve-israel-holocaust">she told Congress</a>, "I’m reminded that the one who created this lei also created our freedom. Are we so insensible to the high cost our forebearers paid to purchase our freedom?" So, the Hawaiian Bureau of Tourism created our freedom? I guess this is not supposed to make much sense.
Chuck Grassley, Dragon Slayer
<a href="http://www.thedailyshow.com/watch/tue-august-4-2009/chuck-grassley-s-debt-and-deficit-dragon">CLASSIC CHUCK GRASSLEY</a> (R-Iowa) here, as the Iowan mixed all the metaphors he had at his disposal to inveigh against health care reform: Sir Lancelot! Dragons! Painful weapons! Golden egg-laying geese! The whole thing was like having a Pear Of Anguish inserted into your brain. Unless, of course, you were Maddie -- John Shadegg's not-granddaughter -- who probably likes the pretty pictures!
Chuck Grassley Saw A Bill Murray Movie
More from Charles Grassley: "We should not legislate in a hasty manner and place ourselves in an infinite loop," says Grassley, apparently <a href="http://www.politico.com/blogs/anneschroeder/0608/Chuck_Grassley_is_a_Bill_Murray_fan.html">drawing the wrong lesson from Bill Murray's GROUNDHOG DAY</a>, in which said "infinite loop" allowed Bill Murray's character the chance to experience personal growth, so that he was no longer the sort of preening dick who'd waste the time of serious people with comparisons to movies he saw one night on Comedy Central.
Orrin Hatch Hates Robin Hood
Utah Republican Orrin Hatch LOVES HIM some children's tales, too, it seems. Thankfully, he kept his stories straight, <a href="http://www.brendan-nyhan.com/blog/2009/04/orrin-hatch-quotes-from-disneys-robin-hood.html">citing Robin Hood</a> as a way of discussing Obama's infernal plan to redistribute wealth in America. It's not clear that Hatch quite understands who would be the Sheriff of Nottingham in this metaphor. But look, just be thankful Hatch didn't burst into an impromptu performance of Bryan Adams's "(Everything I Do) I Do It For You." Hatch, we remind you, fancies himself to be quite the singer.
Frank Lautenberg Is Sick Of These Star Wars
New Jersey Democrat Frank Lautenberg <a href="http://rawstory.com/exclusives/byrne/lautenberg_judges_star_wars_519">compared then Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist's threat</a> to eliminate the Senate filibuster to Star Wars' Emperor Palpatine's efforts to destroy galactic freedom, murder the Jedi and crush "terrorism" with the Death Star. Flash forward to today, and suddenly the elimination of the Senate filibuster doesn't seem like such a bad idea, eh, Senate Democrats?
George Voinovich: Prop Master
When it comes to Congressional visual aids, the master of the form is Ohio Republican George Voinovich, who was the Jean-Michel Basquiat of poster-board-based metaphorical imagery. Check out all that elaborate work! The lovingly rendered "Emperor's New Clothes," the detailed Wheel of Fortune, the G4 Channel courting Pac Man nonsense...<a href="http://www.politico.com/click/stories/0911/charting_the_course.html">we're going to miss the senator when he retires</a>. But you know who won't miss him? The poor interns who had to build this crap.