By Chris Day
STILLWATER, Okla. —
Congress will lose a golden opportunity to reform the food stamp program if social nutrition programs are stripped from the 2013 farm bill to smooth its approval in the House, U.S. Rep. Frank Lucas said Tuesday.
The Oklahoma Republican is chairman of the House Agriculture Committee. He provided an overview of this Congressional session and answered constituent questions at a townhall meeting at the Stillwater Community Center.
He talked about the role of the National Security Agency, immigration reform, U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan and the loss of public confidence in Congress, but focused first and foremost on the 2013 farm bill.
The House soundly rejected the farm bill, 234-195, last month. Democrats indicated they felt the bill was too reform heavy. Republicans approved major amendments to the bill, but 62 voted against it in the final tally.
“Eighty percent of the bill is feeding programs. Twenty percent of the bill’s programs go to raising food,” Lucas said.
House leadership has discussed separating nutrition programs into a separate bill, allowing farm programs to stand alone. House speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, is overseeing that effort.
Lucas doesn’t favor the approach because the Senate has approved a comprehensive farm bill. A conference committee would have to reconcile three bills instead of two, he said.
The Senate Agriculture Committee chairwoman is Debbie Stabenow, a Michigan Democrat. Divide and conquer most likely assures passage of farm programs and kills social nutrition program reforms, Lucas said.
“There are groups driving this process back east — driving it hard. I would hate to think that they would prevent me from making the first and only reforms to the food stamp title since 1996,” Lucas said. “The short answer is I don’t necessarily think it's a good idea, but I will do what I have to do to get a bill passed.”
The House version of the farm bill reduces spending by $40 billion, Lucas said. It incorporates the first reforms to social nutrition programs — school lunches, WIC and food stamps — since 1996. Nutrition program reforms account for approximately half the cuts.
The Senate already has approved its version of the bill. It is not nearly as reform focused. It contains cuts of approximately $12 billion, and a $400 million annual decrease in the food stamp program.