Discussion continued on the Senate floor Tuesday as a sparse crowd on the floor addressed cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, a conservation amendment for Indian tribes and the sugar program.
Senators came away from Tuesday's debate with a final answer on the SNAP discussion. Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., and Pat Roberts, R-Kan., each presented dueling amendments to the Farm Bill regarding the program.
Roberts' amendment, which would have eliminated loopholes created by making families automatically eligible for food stamp benefits through home heating assistance, failed 40-58.
"We can restore integrity to the SNAP program while providing benefits to those truly in need – and save an additional $30 billion dollars," Roberts said. "I am not proposing a dramatic change in the policy of nutrition programs. Instead this amendment reinforces the principles of good government."
The amendment would have also done away with SNAP employment and training program as well as the SNAP nutritional education grant program, which Roberts said don't represent any direct food benefits.
Roberts' amendment would have also limited funds used by the USDA to award state agencies for "basically doing their job," Roberts explained, including monetary awards for signing SNAP participants up for the program.
Conversely, Gillibrand's amendment would have done nearly the opposite – reinstate the $4 billion in SNAP cuts proposed in the Farm Bill and limit some crop insurance funding.
Gillibrand said the cuts to SNAP go against a "core value of who we are as Americans."
"Clearly, we have to reduce the debt and the deficit but hardworking parents … are just trying to put food on the table. They did not spend this nation into debt and we should not be trying to balance the budget on their backs," Gillibrand said.
The Gillibrand amendment, however, was not agreed to by a vote of 26-70.
Senators also debated the sugar program ahead of the introduction of an amendment from Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., to roll back subsidies for sugar producers.
North Dakota Sens. Heidi Heitkamp and John Hoeven each defended the sugar program, noting that nearly all countries subsidize their sugar programs.
"For 10 years now sugar policy has operated at zero cost to the American taxpayer because our farmers are efficient and they are competitive. And because American sugar policy has always made sure they are on a level playing field," Hoeven said.
Though the amendment has yet to be considered, Heitkamp also discussed the sugar program, building on discussion that has been ongoing since last year's Farm Bill. Namely, the American Sugar Alliance is standing by the program, which they say keeps farmers and jobs in the U.S. and retains a strong domestic supply of sugar. The Coalition for Sugar Reform, however, which represents top users of sugar, said the policy results in short supplies and "distorted markets."
But Heitkamp explained that subsidies are a way of business for nearly all sugar-producing countries, and, like Hoeven, noted the sugar policy is necessary to create a "level playing field."
"If we bend to the reforms you are going to hear talked about," Heitkamp said, "we will lose our domestic sugar industry. Why? Because we can't compete."
Sen. Shaheen is expected to introduce the amendment in upcoming Farm Bill debate with the support of Sens. Mark Kirk, R-Ill. and Pat Toomey, R-Penn.
Senators also voted Tuesday on amendments to modify eligibility criteria for irrigation assistance and allow Indian tribes to participate in land and soil conservation programs. Both amendments were agreed to.
An additional amendment offered by Sen. Leahy, D-Vt. Regarding rural broadband was introduced but will be considered Wednesday.
Though the Senate will continue discussion Wednesday, it was noted that Stabenow hopes to entertain a vote on the full bill yet this week. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid remarked simply, "I hope that is the case."
The Senate will continue debate of the 2013 Farm Bill Wednesday.
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