Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and his lieutenants are trying to find a way to pass a five-year farm bill after the Agriculture Committee’s bill failed on the House floor in a surprise 195-234 vote.
Stutzman wants funding for food stamps, which makes up 80 percent of the spending in the bill, to be split into separate legislation from traditional farm subsidies. Breaking up the bipartisan urban-rural coalition that passed the 2008 farm bill by veto-proof margins has long been a conservative goal.
Last week, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) got behind the idea of splitting the bill after Stutzman pleaded with colleagues at a conference meeting to look into it. The Indiana congressman had been blocked in the Rules Committee from offering an amendment to split the bill.
“I have a lot of folks who were ‘no’ votes that told me they would support the farm bill if it was separated,” Stutzman said.
Americans for Prosperity (AFP) President Tim Phillips said his group wants deeper spending cuts than in the original farm bill, which cut about $40 billion overall, including $20.5 billion from food stamps. He said that AFP is spending “hundreds of thousands” of dollars on farm bill activism this year.
When pressed, Stutzman did not outline specific, additional food stamp or farm subsidy cuts that he is seeking. He praised the cuts to direct payments in the committee bill and talked of addressing overhead and delivery costs for food stamps.
“It’s not that we want to take food away from people. We have a food stamp delivery problem,” he said.
Stutzman said the union of food stamps and farm spending in one bill, created by Sens. Bob Dole (R-Kan.) and George McGovern (D-S.D.) in the 1970s, was an “unholy alliance” that should end.
“I never thought we’d have this opportunity we have today,” he said.
It is unclear how the Senate would react to splitting up the bills. While farm programs expire on Sept. 30, food stamps would continue on autopilot if no bill is passed.
One option would be for a House-Senate farm bill conference to agree to final legislation closely mirroring the Senate-passed bill, which trimmed $4 billion from food stamps. Boehner would have to rely on significant Democratic support to pass such a measure in the House.
Another option could be for both Houses to accept the split but make no cuts to food stamps.
Liberals are not enthusiastic about that idea.
Food stamp advocate Bob Greenstein of The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities said Monday that failing to reauthorize food stamps could make the program vulnerable to cuts during the annual appropriations process.
Greenstein said that many rural GOP lawmakers may resist the Stutzman push because once the farm subsidies are divorced from food stamps, they will be a the mercy of GOP budget cutters.
“It is hard to know whether it is a greater danger to farm programs or the SNAP program,” he said. Food stamps are officially known as SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
“For mid-term or long-term [farm subsidies] need the broader urban support,” he said.
Greenstein said Monday that most Democrats were right to oppose the House farm bill. especially once an amendment by Rep. Steve Southerland (R-Ill.) was adopted.
He argued that the bill would be damaging because it would require states for the first time to make food stamps dependent on having a job or securing a slot in job training. He said that states would be given a financial incentive to use the requirement to force deserving recipients from the program and had no such incentive to create new job training spaces.
“You could look for a job and if you can’t find a job or a worker training program, you would go hungry,” he said, adding that states already have the ability to require food stamp users to look for work, to accept job offers and to remain in a job.