WASHINGTON, Sept. 12, 2012 – Even before the “Farm Bill Now” rally wrapped up around noon today, some members of Congress were meeting to explain their views on cutting federal spending - including their desire to cut even more out of new farm bill.
The event, “Conservations with Conservatives” is self-described “as a group of free market and liberty-minded Members of Congress that will meet monthly with traditional press and bloggers to discuss the most important issues of the day.” It’s chaired by Representatives Raúl Labrador (ID-01), Tim Huelskamp (KS-01) and Jeff Landry (LA-03),
Asked if they were the primary reason why GOP leaders were unwilling to schedule a floor vote on the the farm bill that passed out of the House Agriculture Committee in July, Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kansas, said the simple reason is that “there are not 218 votes to pass it.” He said that Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, told him much the same thing last night.
Besides, Huelskamp continued, the legislation that most folks call “the farm bill” is not really a “farm” bill anymore. “It is a food stamp bill,” he emphasized, while pointing out that about 80% of the bill’s funding is targeted for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), more commonly known as food stamps.
Huelskamp, voted against H.R. 6083, the Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act of 2012, when the bill was approved in committee by a 35-11 margin on July 12. The measure saves about $35 billion, which is $11 billion more than the Senate version.
He said he might be able to vote for the bill on the House floor if it includes $33 billion in food stamp cuts over the next year, rather than the $16 billion in SNAP cuts that were included in the House Committee-passed bill. But even then, he has concerns about provisions dealing with dairy and sugar and would like to see more regulatory relief.
Huelskamp, a freshman member from “The Big First” district, which encompasses 69 counties in Western and Central Kansas, said he recognizes that people are talking about a new farm bill, but only 10 people contacted him about it during the month of August. As a result, he’s comfortable waiting on a new farm bill until after the November elections.
“I’d like to get past presidential politics and get past Iowa. That’s my concern,” he emphasized.
“Food stamps go on without an extension or a new farm bill. Crop insurance goes on without an extension or a farm bill. Numerous other programs continue.” Huelskamp added.
Earlier in the day, Collin Peterson, who serves as the ranking member of the House Agriculture Committee, told participants at the “Farm Bill Now” rally that the lack of constituent interest has made it harder to get members interested in passing a farm bill.
He was joined by fellow Democrats and Republicans who want to see farm bill floor action before the current bill expires on Sept. 30.
“This rally is a good starting point, but we need 100 to 200 calls from people in these districts to these members,” he said. “We have eight days left, but we only need two days to pass this bill. They need to get the pressure put on,” he emphasized.
For more on the rally, click:
Huelskamp said the real reason some Democrats are talking so much about getting a new farm bill done now is because “it’s all about Iowa and the presidential race.
“Six weeks ago, I wrote Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, who is running around Iowa saying “I want a farm bill,” to tell me what he would like to see in a farm bill. Huelskamp requested that Secretary Vilsack provide a response by August 13, 2012, but has not yet seen a reply.
Unlike previous administrations, both Republican and Democrat, Huelskamp said the Obama White House has no specific farm bill proposals.
“We’ve had no details in a year and a half about what he’d like to see in a farm bill. That’s unacceptable,” Huelskamp charged, before also criticizing the Secretary’s frequent trips to Iowa this year. Vilsack is a former Iowa governor and his wife, former First Lady Christie Vilsack is challenging Rep. Steve King in Iowa’s redesigned Fourth District.
If Vilsack is serious about passing a farm bill, “he ought to quit going out to Iowa for his wife and come back to Washington DC and actually talk about what he wants in a farm bill,” Huelskamp noted.
Vilsack may not have offered specifics to Huelskamp, but President Obama’s budget calls for cutting direct payments and trimming crop insurance by about $30 billion, similar to the levels proposed by House Budget Committee Chairman and GOP Vice Presidential nominee Paul Ryan as part of the House-passed budget.
Regardless, Vilsack continues to criticize House Republicans for not taking up the measure.
In one of his most strongly-worded attacks on the GOP leadership’s failure to schedule floor time for a new farm bill, on Monday Vilsack told farmers attending the National Farmers Union’s annual fall fly-in that a farm bill needs to be passed now.
“There is no more important piece of legislation that any member of Congress can work on for rural America, for farmers, producers and ranchers than passage of a farm bill this month.” said Vilsack.
Without mentioning names, Vilsack blasted lawmakers, like Huelskamp, who want to make further cuts in the food stamp program because there is a lot of fraud, waste and abuse.
“The fraud rate in this program is less than one percent and the error rate is also at historic lows,” Vilsack noted, while pointing out that every dollar spent on food stamps results in $1.83 in economic activity.
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