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Stutzman gets his wish on farm bill

House votes to split ag, food stamp issues

Three weeks ago, a U.S. House committee turned down proposals by Rep. Marlin Stutzman to strip food stamps from the 5-year farm bill.

On Thursday, the Republican majority in the House approved doing exactly what he had asked for.

“As a fourth-generation farmer, I am proud of my work to pass the first true, farm-only farm bill in more than four decades,” Stutzman, R-3rd, said in a statement after the vote.

It was close: The tally was 216-208, with 12 Republicans joining all 196 Democrats in opposing the legislation. The Democratic Senate is certain to resist, and President Barack Obama has threatened to veto the bill.

More than 530 organizations, most of them agriculture groups, signed a letter to Congress objecting to splitting the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program – commonly known as food stamps for low-income people – from federal agriculture programs and policies.

“It is Farm Bureau’s belief that neither bill will pass out as a stand-alone,” Indiana Farm Bureau policy official Bob White said Thursday in a telephone interview.

The thinking is that urban lawmakers would vote against farm programs and rural lawmakers would oppose SNAP.

“We want the two pieces to stay together and believe they need to stay together to help benefit those (agriculture) producers out here and the nutrition folks of what their future is going to look like for the next five years,” White said.

At the close of floor debate, Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Okla., chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, said the panel will draft a nutrition bill that, if it passes the House, “can hopefully be wedded, matched” with whatever farm bill is agreed to by House and Senate negotiators.

Otherwise, food stamp legislation likely will be handled in the appropriations process, Lucas said.

Stutzman’s second chance at dividing food stamps and agriculture policy came after the House defeated its original farm bill June 20 as he, 61 other Republicans and most Democrats voted against it.

At the time, dissenting Republicans complained that the planned reduction in SNAP spending – $2 billion a year – was much too small, while Democrats contended it was far too large.

Food stamp spending, which has grown from about $38 billion in fiscal 2008 to $78 billion in fiscal 2012, accounts for roughly 80 percent of the cost of the farm bill. More than 46 million Americans receive federal nutrition assistance.

Stutzman has been calling for the farm bill to be split up since at least last August. On June 18, after the House Rules Committee rejected his amendments to divide the original farm bill in two, Stutzman began working to enlist Republicans who would vote against that bill and back his idea.

During a July 3 visit to Fort Wayne, Stutzman said in an interview: “We’re trying to get a good whip count on where members would be at on voting for a farm-only farm bill. I think we’re making good progress.”

The LaGrange County corn and soybean farmer joined the floor debate Thursday. “Farm policy and food stamp policy should not be mixed. They should stand on their own merits,” he said in remarks broadcast by C-SPAN.

“Today we can pass a bill that sends a clear message that the days of deceptively named budget-busting bills are over,” he said.

All seven Republicans from Indiana voted in favor of the separation. Both Democrats from the state voted against it.

Indiana Farm Bureau, Indiana Farmers Union, Indiana Health Industry Forum and Red Gold Inc., a Madison County-based tomato products company, were among 532 groups to sign a July 2 letter to House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, urging that federal nutrition and agriculture programs remain together.

“It’s taken a long, long time to build a coalition of folks that agreed upon the cuts in the Senate to both the nutrition piece and the farm piece” of that chamber’s farm bill, Farm Bureau’s White said. “All the coalition groups seem to like that one.”

The Senate farm bill, passed June 10 in a 66-27 vote, would reduce current SNAP spending by $400 million a year. Both of Indiana’s senators voted for the measure.

Sen. Dan Coats, R-Ind., voted in June 2012 for a failed amendment to separate food stamps from the farm bill.

“While Coats has supported efforts to split the legislation, he believes we need to provide some certainty to our farmers and producers now and pass a five-year reauthorization of the farm bill,” Tara DiJulio, communications director for Coats, said Thursday in an email.

Donnelly will continue to endorse the Senate farm bill, according to his communications director.

“He supports the bill because it would give Indiana farmers and families the certainty they deserve while providing more (budget) deficit reduction and program reform than the version the House is considering today,” Elizabeth Shappell said in an email.

The National Corn Growers Association reluctantly backed passage of the House bill as a means to advance farm policy legislation to a House-Senate conference committee.

“We do not believe that the link between farm programs and nutrition programs should be severed. We see benefits beyond the political in keeping the ties between those who produce food and those who need it,” association President Pam Johnson said in a statement.

The House and the Senate have until Sept. 30 to agree on a farm bill to replace the 2008 model. They can always extend current programs past their expiration date, which is what lawmakers did at the start of this year.

bfrancisco@jg.net

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