By Dale Denwalt, Staff Writer
Enid News and Eagle
One option to kickstart the U.S. House’s faltering farm policy legislation would be to split it up, Rep. Frank Lucas said Thursday.
The Oklahoma congressman and Agriculture Committee chairman said one option House Republicans are considering is to have separate votes on farms and food stamps, although he believes the combination of the two issues has worked in the past.
The original bill’s provisions on food stamps, or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, would have cut spending for SNAP by about $20.5 billion. In a surprise outcome last week, the bill didn’t get enough votes and failed in the House — an outcome attributed to SNAP policy in the farm bill. A Senate version of the farm bill awaits action by House leadership, but it likely won’t be considered.
Lucas, R-Cheyenne, said Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor are looking at all the options.
“One of those is the concept of splitting the bill into a nutrition title and basically everything else, the farm bill, staying in a separate bill,” he said. “My personal prospective is the coalition has been successful in the past for 50 years almost for addressing these issues at the same time. But if leadership chooses to go the route of two separate bills, then of course I’ll be supportive.”
More than half of the food stamp cost cuts in Lucas’ farm bill come from ending “categorical eligibility.” Many states, he said, will automatically grant food stamps to anyone who qualifies for another welfare benefit.
“In the House draft, we say basically we’ll help you, but you have to show us what your income is. You’ve got to show us you qualify under existing law and we can help you,” said Lucas.
The rest of the savings are made by restricting the automatic benefits of people who receive heating oil subsidies from the government. Now, a person only has to qualify to receive $1 per month for heating oil to get a month’s worth of food stamps, but Lucas’ bill raises that marker to $20.
By reforming that and other provisions, the House claims savings of about $40 billion in its recently rejected farm bill. The Senate’s version has about $20.5 billion in savings, Lucas said.
That’s not enough to get a hearing in the House, he said. As soon as Lucas gets a bill out of the U.S. House, GOP leadership there and Democratic leaders from the Senate will hash out the differences in a conference committee.
“It’s just challenging to think that as focused as the United States House is on spending and trying to do something about the national debt, it’s hard to believe the House would accept reforms that are one-fifth of what we’ve looked at here,” said Lucas.
The Senate’s version also focuses on a crop insurance that benefits corn growers more than others, he said.
“When we get to conference, I’m confident that by working with the Senate we can achieve a fair balance and will be able to come up with a bill that does give producers the kind of choices they need, wherever they live,” said Lucas. “After all, if it’s a federal farm bill, then people all over the country should be able to participate in it, not just a particular region or particular commodity group.”
Congress still has a few months to hammer out a compromise. If they don’t, the subsidy provisions adopted in 2008 and extended this year, policies that also help keep food prices down, would start unwinding — first with dairy operations on Dec. 31 and then with the wheat crop after it’s cut in the spring of 2014, Lucas estimated.
“Even if we don’t have a bill that’s signed into law, I’d still like to be so far along that producers have an understanding and can make their decisions based on enough facts,” he said.