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House farm bill debate to begin Wednesday afternoon

House farm bill debate to begin Wednesday afternoon

House debate on new farm bill set to hit the floor on Wednesday afternoon. Major debate expected over nutrition programs. Proponents of SNAP program seek to shape debate.

The House will likely vote on a new, $940 billion farm bill late this week. Even with the fresh backing of Speaker John Boehner, the legislation is hardly a shoo-in.

Following a winnowing of amendments by the House Rules Committee on Tuesday, the spirited verbal wrestling will kick off Wednesday afternoon. While debate will be heated on a number of issues, the big rhetorical round-houses will likely come over GOP lawmaker demands that significant reforms and funding cuts be made to nutrition programs.

On Monday, those opposed to the $20 billion-plus slash to SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) funding, received the backing of President Obama. A statement from the White House warned that Obama would be advised to veto the bill if it reaches his desk unaltered.

The Obama administration, “strongly opposes the harmful cuts to (SNAP), a cornerstone of our nation's food assistance safety net. ... The administration believes that Congress should achieve significant budgetary savings to help reduce the deficit without creating hardship for vulnerable families -- for example, by reducing crop insurance subsidies. Rather than reducing crop insurance subsidies by $11.7 billion over 10 years, as proposed in the President’s Budget, (the House farm bill) would increase reference prices for farmers by roughly 45 percent and increase already generous crop insurance subsidies at a cost of nearly $9 billion over 10 years to the nation’s taxpayers.”

Democrats – who have claimed more than two million SNAP recipients could be pushed out of the program under the Republican proposals -- will undoubtedly try and shame those across the aisle with claims that nutrition program funding cuts will kick children and the elderly off the roles. Considering the bevy of SNAP-related amendments, that tactic is unlikely to sway those seeking the cuts.

Among those amendments is one calling for SNAP recipients to be drug-tested. Another would prevent illegal immigrants from SNAP benefits. Several others would make ineligible anyone convicted of rape, murder, drug-related crimes or treason. Another amendment would require work for food aid.

On Tuesday morning, several groups pushing for SNAP funding to be untouched and for reforms to international food aid programs (more here) held a press call.

Gawain Kripke, Research and Policy Director, Oxfam America, expects the international food aid amendment will “very likely” get a vote. “We have the chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee asking for it – and they have jurisdiction over the issue.”

Regarding the coming floor debate, “there’s a lot of misperception around the farm bill, around the SNAP program in particular,” said Tom Colicchio, a well-known chef and founder of Craft Restaurants.“Frankly, there are a lot of scare tactics being used -- things like lottery winners using SNAP. That isn’t really true because they’ll be disallowed from SNAP. Or, people walking into liquor stores buying beer and cigarettes. That isn’t true…

“We’ve been trying to change the perception of SNAP, what it’s used for and who’s receiving SNAP. There’s a perception out there that people aren’t working and are sitting back collecting dollars. The majority of people receiving SNAP have at least one member of the family that is working. Also, the majority of SNAP (funds) are going to children and the elderly.”

Colicchiothen called out lawmakers that might cut SNAP benefits while receiving Commodity Title money. “It’s really disingenuous for members of Congress to put (untrue) information out there and then it (becomes) widely accepted. … Then a member of the House goes to the floor and talks about how we shouldn’t be taking money (to pay for SNAP) when they’re receiving $70,000 a year in subsidies for their family farms.”

Other amendments up for consideration in the House would decouple nutrition programs and the rest of the farm bill. Those on the call didn’t think there was much chance of success.

“In general, the notion of separating SNAP from subsidy programs and other provisions in the farm bill is politically a non-starter,” said Scott Faber of the Environmental WorkingGroup. “Ultimately, it won’t make members of Congress to evade their responsibilities. If anything, separating SNAP from subsidy programs will make those programs more vulnerable.”

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