House sets up votes on cuts to farm subsidies, food stamp program

The House late Wednesday debated amendments to the farm bill that would limit farm subsidy payments to farmers and make additional tweaks to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

Rep. Ron Kind (D-Wis.) proposed an amendment that would only allow farm subsidies to producers with an average gross income of less than $250,000, and limit those subsidies to $50,000 per person.

Kind said those changes would help prevent million-dollar payments to farmers and save $11 billion. But Rep. Mike Conaway (R-Texas) said that would be a "slap in the face" to farmers — he and other opponents said cutting farm payments would penalize U.S. producers compared to their overseas competitors.

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Conaway also said only radical environmental groups would support these kinds of cuts, although Kind argued that many taxpayer groups support his proposal.

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) and ranking member Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) closed out the debate by urging members to oppose the change.

Members also debated several remaining amendments dealing with SNAP after rejecting a Democratic proposal to restore $20.5 billion in cuts to the program over the next 10 years and after approving language allowing states to run drug tests on food stamp applicants.

One proposal from Conaway would cut SNAP benefits by 10 percent in any year when SNAP is not reauthorized. He said that would create an incentive to reauthorize the program, but Democrats said it would only punish people when Congress fails to act.

Another amendment from Rep. Tom Marino (R-Pa.) would set up a study of how SNAP benefits are actually used, which Democrats said would promote spying on SNAP beneficiaries.

Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.) proposed language that would let people buy personal hygiene items using SNAP benefits. Republicans said that would fall outside the scope of the bill, which focuses on nutrition, not health and beauty aids.

Several other amendments are awaiting votes, including one from Rep. Jackie Walorski (R-Ind.) that would prohibit the imposition of a Christmas tree "tax." Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.) explained that this "tax" is actually a 15 cent-per-tree fee that Christmas tree producers want to impose in order to fund marketing efforts.

In 2011, the Obama administration delayed approving this fee amid complaints about the Christmas tree "tax."

Another proposal from Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) would allow colleges to cultivate hemp for academic research. Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) worried that it's too hard to tell the difference between hemp and marijuana plants in the field.

Finally, Rep. Trey Radel (R-Fla.) is seeking a vote on his amendment to repeal the National Sheep Industry Improvement Center, which he says wastes money promoting lamb consumption and sheep shearing.

During the night, the House disposed of several amendments by voice vote, from:

— Kathy Castor (D-Fla.), ensuring that the USDA certificates of origin are accepted by any country that has a free trade agreement with the United States. Accepted in voice vote.

— Michael Grimm (R-N.Y.), requiring at least one anti-food stamp fraud pilot project in a major city. The bill requires 10 pilot projects to be established. Accepted in voice vote.

— Jim Costa (D-Calif.), creating a pilot program to deal with nitrate contamination of rural drinking water in small communities. Withdrawn.

— Phil Gingrey (R-Ga.), eliminating language authorizing the Rural Broadband Access Loan and Loan Guarantee Program. Rejected in voice vote.

— Steve Palazzo (R-Miss.), authorizing $500,000 in funding for the Agricultural Technology Innovation Partnership program. Withdrawn.

— Polis, making it easier for the Forest Service to access federal lands to treat pine beetle infestations on these lands. Withdrawn.

— Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio), requiring that at least 50 percent of the funds made available for the Farmers' Market Nutrition Program are reserved for seniors. Accepted by voice vote.