SAN DIEGO, Aug. 9, 2017 – The top Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee told an audience of sugar producers and processors Wednesday that the biggest problem facing congressional farm bill negotiators, beyond plain old financing, is going to be what to do with SNAP, the federal nutrition program that used to be called food stamps.
Speaking at the International Sweetener Symposium in San Diego, Rep. Collin Peterson of Minnesota, who ran the committee when the 2008 farm bill was being written, pointed out that the Heritage Foundation was once again attacking the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, and not just to save money, but as a way to kill the farm bill, which Heritage views as excessive government intervention.
“They’ve been trying to do this for 20 years,” Peterson said. “They tell their members they’re doing it to cut SNAP, but really they’re doing it to get rid of farm bill.” And he said the current attempt will once again fail.
“Maybe they could muscle (a divided farm bill) through the House,” he said. “But it will never go in the Senate.”
Peterson noted that the chairman of the House Ag Committee, Mike Conaway, R-Texas, must deal with a number of Republicans who are concerned about being targeted by Heritage Action and other outside conservative groups. These members, he said, are wary of any taint of bipartisanship.
“Some of those folks, if you work with Democrats, you’re the devil… and they’re going to take you out,” Peterson said, pointing to what happened to former House Speaker John Boehner. “So how do we navigate that,” he said. “I’m not sure.”
On the other hand, Peterson said, there are members of his own party who believe that SNAP, which last year sent monthly benefits to more than 44 million Americans, eating up the lion’s share of the USDA budget, “is perfect and can’t be fooled with.”
Peterson said farm bill negotiators are also going to have to work out new ways to support the dairy and cotton industries. Cotton farmers “will have a new program, I believe, or there won’t be a farm bill,” he said, adding the program will need “significant money.”
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