The higher level of nutrition spending that House Speaker Pelosi wants in a new farm bill and the tax package the Senate wants appear to have become linked as the House-Senate conference on the farm bill resumes today.
House-Senate conferees are mired in their quest to figure out how to pay for a $10 billion increase in the bill and whether to include the Senate’s tax package.
Late last week, as part of an offer to convince the House to accept that tax package — which would raise $2.4 billion in farm-related tax reform and spend an equal amount in new farm tax breaks — the Senate informally offered to increase the amount for food stamps and other nutrition programs by $500 million, raising the total from $9.5 billion to $10 billion.
House conferees rejected the informal Senate proposal, but with Pelosi’s approval made a counteroffer to the Senate to include $1 billion in tax breaks and $500 million for nutrition.
Because the House declined to accept its tax package, the Senate withdrew its increase in nutrition programs. Pelosi’s willingness to consider a tax package and the Senate’s willingness to increase nutrition spending have raised the possibility of a compromise.
The $10 billion is also exactly the amount of money that Senate Finance and House Ways and Means committees are supposed to provide. House Ways and Means Chairman Charles Rangel has said he wants the money he provides to be used for nutrition.
The potential for the Democrats to claim a higher level of nutrition funding as a victory was shown by an exchange between House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee Chairwoman Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., and Republicans at Friday’s conference meeting.
House Agriculture ranking member Bob Goodlatte noted that he had backed the House offer even though it was not popular with some of his fellow Republicans.
Rep. Randy Neugebauer, R-Texas, said that cutting commodity payments to increase nutrition spending would be divisive.
DeLauro, who represents Pelosi at the conference, immediately noted that Neugebauer had 30,000 food stamp recipients in his district in 2006.
DeLauro said Republicans should not consider a provision to increase the indexing of food stamps for inflation divisive because indexation for inflation had been cut by the 1996 welfare reform act that was passed by a Republican Congress and signed by Democratic President Clinton.
The tension continued as Goodlatte noted that one level of indexation in food stamps had remained and Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Okla., said if Congress does not meet its “obligations” to farmers “there will be no food.”
This article appears in the April 26, 2008, edition of National Journal Daily.