WASHINGTON, April 18, 2012- The House Committee on Agriculture passed the Agricultural Reconciliation Act of 2012 with a voice vote along party lines today. 

The measure recommends budget reconciliation cuts required by the House Budget Resolution be met entirely by reforms, elimination of loopholes and the reduction of waste, fraud and abuse in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as the food stamp program.

The House Budget Resolution, H. Con. Res. 112, passed in March, instructs the House Agriculture Committee lawmakers to make policy changes that result in 1, 5, and 10 year savings estimates of $7.7 billion, $19.7 billion, and $33.2 billion, respectively.

With disapproval of most Democratic members, the Agriculture Committee majority approved achieving these requirements by suggesting more than $33 billion in savings from SNAP.

Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., said over the past ten years, the cost of SNAP nearly tripled, increasing by 270 percent, but that the reductions proposed by the Agriculture Committee cut only four percent over the next decade. While Lucas said he felt the reductions in the proposal are prudent for a program that makes up almost 80 percent of agricultural spending, he emphasized that the measure does not prescribe what will be in the Farm Bill. 

“Let me remind my colleagues that this is just an exercise,” Lucas said. “When we write the Farm Bill, we will consider reductions from all areas.” 

During Wednesday morning’s business meeting to mark up the Committee’s reconciliation suggestions, members took the opportunity to debate the proposals for the record. Ideological and partisan positions on federal welfare spending, defense spending as well as societal obligations and federal government’s role in individuals’ lives continued back and forth for about an hour and half.

However, the fact that these recommendations are not expected to be considered in the Senate caused Ranking Member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., to dismiss the process as a waste of time.

“We have a farm bill to write,” Peterson said in his opening statement. “I understand why you need to engage in this political exercise. I just caution that if we continue down the path before us today it will be far more difficult to come together.”

Rep. Jim McGovern estimated the reductions would altogether remove two million people from the SNAP program. Rep. Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio, said the Committee made a flawed decision when it recommended the reconciliation cuts be met from one program, which she said would remove millions of children from the school lunch program while the House attempts to protect defense spending. 

“I urge my colleagues not to play this political game at the expense of the most hungry,” she said. 

Rep. Mike Conaway, R-Texas, said when it comes down to the directions of the Constitution, defense of the nation comes first in the responsibilities of the federal government. He added that faith in families and communities to rally around people that need the most help should be relied upon before the government, while also emphasizing the SNAP cuts are not as extreme as Democrats on the Committee describe. 

“The Draconian impacts my colleagues mentioned don’t line up with the four percent cut we’re proposing,” Conaway said. “These are reasonable reductions.”

The Agricultural Reconciliation Act of 2012 passed today is sent on to the House Budget Committee as recommendations to meet the House budget resolution. 

As part of the budget reductions, the committee hopes to save almost $6 billion over 10 years by putting an earlier stop on the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) that included an across-the-board increase in food stamp benefits in April 2009. This GOP-sponsored-provision terminates the ARRA increase on July 1, 2012.

Another significant cost-saving provision in the measure closes a loophole in Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) payments and how they interact with SNAP benefit calculations. The committee can claim savings of over $14 billion over 10 years in the process.

Other savings include about $3 billion from Employment and Training (E&T) programs in SNAP over 10 years and $480 million in savings to end state performance bonuses.



For more news, go to www.agri-pulse.com