WASHINGTON -- Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) sharply criticized GOP challenger Rep. Tom Cotton on Monday for voting against the farm bill.
The farm bill has been a key issue in the Arkansas Senate race, in which Cotton holds a slight lead, according to HuffPost Pollster. In a Monday debate at the University of Central Arkansas, Pryor said that out of all of the bills Congress passes, the farm bill was the most important for Arkansas residents. He sought to draw a stark contrast between himself and Cotton, who voted against the bill earlier this year.
"He is the only member of the Arkansas delegation to do that," Pryor said. "Every indicator I have ever seen says we should vote for this because it is good for Arkansas."
"This is not just about the farmers," he continued. "This is about rural farmers, rural broadband. All those things are in the farm bill. We need the farm bill to pass so we can help Arkansas stay competitive in the global economy."
As its name suggests, the farm bill provides subsidies for farmers, but the legislation also includes food stamps for poor people, part of a decades-old deal between members of Congress representing rural and urban constituencies. Last year, Cotton and some conservative Republicans in the House of Representatives tried to undo this arrangement by approving separate farm and food stamps bills. The gambit failed, as Congress ultimately passed a more traditional farm bill earlier this year, one that had modest cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Cotton voted against the modified bill.
In a highly misleading TV ad released last month, Cotton defended his vote as standing up to President Barack Obama, who "hijacked the farm bill and turned it into a food stamp bill, with billions more in spending."
In Monday's debate, Pryor mentioned the "hijack" line and said he agreed with a recent editorial cartoon that depicted Cotton's ad winning a Nobel Prize for fiction.
Cotton, for his part, repeatedly linked Pryor to Obama, and defended his effort to create "a real farm bill that focuses on farmers."
"I worked on my parents' small farm and from a very early age I learned a lot of lessons on that farm," Cotton said. "One lesson I learned is you can't spend more money than you take in. And I learned it is not enough to live at your means, you have to live below your means because you have to save for a rainy day."
"That's what we need to do in Washington, D.C.," Cotton added. "We need a farm bill that's truly focused on farmers, but we also need a food stamp bill without the waste, fraud and abuse."