The Senate already passed a farm bill that cut food stamps by around $4.5 billion. The House’s version is even more punitive, and House Democrats are upset that their leader on the Agriculture Committee let it go through without putting up much of a fight.
Liberal Democrats are fuming over $16 billion in cuts to food stamp programs included in the House farm bill set for a markup on Wednesday.
Rep. Collin Peterson (Minn.), the top Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee, agreed to the cuts as a pragmatic way of moving forward with legislation important to rural lawmakers.
In an interview with The Hill, he said much of the cuts would be restored in a conference with the Senate.
Yet the move has led to anger on the left, while raising questions over whether the farm bill can pass the House given opposition among Republican and Democratic lawmakers.
Rep. Rosa DeLauro (Conn.) issued a scathing statement after the bill’s release that called it immoral and inhumane.
“This bill increases subsidies to millionaires. This is a bill that robs the poor to pay the rich,” she told the Hill Friday. “This bill is an outrage.”
The cuts come mostly from making it harder for people to enroll, by eliminating something called “categorical eligibility,” which allows access to the food stamp program if recipients qualify for other low-income safety-net programs, even if their assets (like a car) fall a bit above the eligibility line. The bill would restrict “cat-el” to only those households which receive cash assistance. This would cut off between 2-3 million recipients of food stamps, and would drop about 280,000 children from the school lunch program.
It’s no surprise that Peterson agreed to this. The conservative Democrat routinely votes against the priorities of the mainstream. You can understand everything about his position when he said this to The Hill: “Some won’t vote for a farm bill if there is one dollar in cuts to food stamps.”
But Peterson wants the most important bill of any Agriculture Committee leader’s tenure to pass, and the cuts may push many liberals off the bill, which would make it difficult. Conservative Republicans who favor more cuts on the farm bill will also peel off, and if the majority of the Democratic Party mutinies, the bill could run aground. Members of the Agriculture Committee have a press event today to protest the cuts in the farm bill, and even moderate Joe Baca (D-CA) will attend. If the opposition is that broad, the bill could be in peril.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer would not say how they would vote on the bill, though Pelosi’s spokesman gave a tepid endorsement of the concept of getting the bill to conference, where any cuts to food stamps would be restored. That seems like a dangerous game. But the current farm bill expires September 30, so there is at least a sense of urgency around this.