Agriculture spending bill sparks bitter food fight in House

Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.) rejected those assertions and said the GOP bill cuts only from discretionary programs, not the mandatory food stamp and child nutrition programs.

"So while my colleagues on the other side of the aisle are talking about this dreadful calamity associated with the cuts in this bill, the fact of the matter is, food programs get more money under this bill, and that's because they are mandatory programs," Lummis said. "The committee has no control over them. The only thing we have control over are the discretionary programs."

The bill, H.R. 2112, would cut $2.7 million in discretionary spending from current levels, $5 billion lower than the Obama administration's requests. But it still provides $117 billion in mandatory spending programs such as food stamps.

The debate turned more broadly to a debate about the role of government, leading some Republicans to argue that government programs are in any case not the best way to fight hunger and blamed Democratic policies for leading to increased demand for these programs.

"It's unconscionable that we have 45 million people in this country getting food stamps," Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.) said. "That's a result of the policies of our Democratic friends across the aisle."

In response to arguments from McGovern that the bill is "morally indefensible," Foxx said Republicans agree that budgets are moral documents, and noted that Democrats failed to pass any budget last year.

"I don't know what that says about their morality, but I know what it says about Republicans' morality," she said. "We have a strong sense of morality. We passed a budget. We're being honest with the American people. We're telling them, you cannot continue to spend above your means."

Several Democrats noted that the bill would cut the Women Infants and Children's (WIC) nutrition program, along with several others. But Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.) argued that the $686 million cut is warranted given a 300,000 drop in the number of participants in that program over the last year.

"We will make sure no one falls through the cracks," Kingston added. "There are three contingency funds which can be drawn on if that happens.

Kingston and others also noted that Democrats cut more than $500 million from WIC last year, and moved the money to an unrelated account. "Where was the screaming and hollering then?" he asked.

Earlier in the day, Democrats also said they oppose a $30 million cut to the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, which they said would make it harder for that agency to police speculation in commodity markets. That issue is expected to surface again as members consider amendments to the bill Tuesday and Wednesday.

House debate early Tuesday afternoon was in the context of the rule for the bill, which members approved at about 2:30 p.m. After the rule was approved, members began general debate on the bill and were expected to begin consideration of amendments.

-- This report was updated at 2:36 p.m. to reflect the approval of the rule.