Ag chairman defends lawmakers who get subsidies, cut food stamps

The chairman of the House Agriculture Committee on Thursday defended fellow lawmakers who have received millions in farm subsidies while also voting this month to cut $20.5 billion from the food stamp program.

Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) said it is not hypocritical and drawing any connection is unfair.

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This week, the Environmental Working Group (EWG), a group critical of large farm subsidies, published an updated database of farm subsidy recipients.

The data shows Agriculture Committee members Stephen Fincher (R-Tenn.) and Doug LaMalfa (R-Calif.) have gotten substantial subsidies. 

Both members voted to cut food stamps by voting for the 2013 farm bill in committee this month.

Fincher received $70,574 in government farm support last year and $3.4 million since 1995.

LaMalfa got $188,570 in 2012 and $5.1 million since 1995.

EWG last year found 23 members of Congress receiving farm subsidies and said Thursday it is still working on a complete list for this year, according to EWG researcher Donald Carr.

“It’s hypocritical with a capital H,” Carr said. “Why are taxpayers funding millions in subsidies for people who are cutting benefits for families who are struggling to put food on the table?”

Fincher’s office declined to comment on the report.

"Current food stamp and crop programs were created decades ago and Rep. LaMalfa believes it is high time that we move both into the 21st century. He has long advocated for an end to direct subsidy payments and voted to eliminate those payments last week, as well as supporting steps to modernize the food stamp program," LaMalfa spokesman Kevin Eastman said.

Asked about the report, Lucas said the members are not being hypocrites. Lucas argues that the farm bill stops abuse of the food stamp program by closing loopholes like one that allows states to give recipients phony heating aid so they can get food stamps when they would not otherwise qualify.

He said EWG was being unfair.

“That’s just trying to match apples and oranges, or potatoes and turnips,” he said. “They are playing games.”

Lucas, himself a rancher, noted that members of Congress are allowed to remain farmers after getting elected.

“Under the law, members of Congress are allowed to continuing farming and have farming operations and participate in the programs. So they’re abiding by the law,” he said.

He said members should look at the food stamp cuts and the farm bill and use their judgment. 

“Every member of the body — on the floor and committee — has to vote his or her conscience as they view each slice of the bill and how they view the total package,” he said. 

A GOP aide pointed out that the members in question voted to cut more than 30 percent from the farm bill's commodity title and, factoring in increase to crop insurance, subsidies get a net cut of 10 percent. This compares to a roughly 2.5 percent cut of food stamps.

The $940 billion farm bill passed of committee ends direct farm payments and a host of other current subsidies, saving the billions from the budget. The bill does then reinvests some of the savings to expand crop insurance and to provide generous price and revenue protection systems.

--This report was updated at 3:50 p.m.