Food Stamp Bill is Source of Contention


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Democrats faced a loss in the House on Saturday when their motion to further re-link farm aid and food stamps failed to pass in a 204-195 vote.

The issue at stake in Saturday's vote was whether or not to synchronize the timelines of both parts of the long-delayed and hotly debated US farm bill. The Republican-controlled House's version has the food stamp portion due for reauthorization in three years, while the farm aid portion would be due in five.

Democrats want the same timeline for both:

“The farm bill’s nutrition program needs to be on the same time line as the bill’s other provisions,” said Minnesota Rep. Collin Peterson. “It makes no sense to decouple farm and food programs; they go hand in hand." Peterson is the ranking Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee.

Saturday's vote followed a vote on Friday that essentially reopened negotiations on the farm bill between the House and the Democrat-controlled Senate.

The 2008 farm bill expired a year ago, meaning that Congress is a year behind schedule in writing the bill's successor. Food aid and farm subsidy programs have been tied together since the 1970s, but earlier this year they had to be split in order to pass the House. It passed the farm commodity bill in July and a bill containing deep cuts to the food stamp system in September.

Keeping the nutrition program in the farm bill - even if it's on a separate timeline for reauthorization - means that arriving at consensus will be more difficult since food stamps are the main point of contention in the bill.

The House-passed bill would cut the federal food stamp program by $39 billion over 10 years, while the Senate's version would only cut $4 billion in the same time frame.

Following Saturday's vote, Speaker Joe Boehner released the names of the House conferees. Democrats are concerned about Republican interference with negotiations. The rule passed on Friday contained two Republican motions to instruct conferees. Peterson called this type of provision "unprecedented."

“I am hopeful that if Republican Leadership can be reasonable and leave the conference committee alone to do its work that we will be able to finish a five-year, comprehensive farm bill this year,” Peterson said.

Image via Wikimedia Commons.