The House is scheduled to begin debate on the farm bill on Tuesday with the knowledge that if the House version makes it through Congress and goes to the White House, President Obama’s senior advisers will recommend that he veto it.
The issue for the White House is a $20.5 billion cut over 10 years in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, better known as SNAP or food stamps.
The reduction proposed in the House bill is five times greater than the SNAP-slash in the Senate-passed farm bill, which would cut $4 billion from a program expected to cost about $760 billion over the next 10 years. The White House did not threaten to veto the Senate bill, so it may be willing to live with a reduction somewhere between the Senate and House figures, a number that would have to be worked out by a conference committee.
The Office of Management and Budget issued the veto threat on the House farm bill on Monday evening while the House Rules Committee was listening to Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., and ranking member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., make a presentation on the committee-passed bill. House Rules ranking member Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y., read part of the White House announcement.
“The bill makes unacceptable deep cuts in SNAP, which could increase hunger among millions of Americans who are struggling to make ends meet, including families with children and senior citizens,” the statement said. “The administration believes that Congress should achieve significant budgetary savings to help reduce the deficit without creating hardship for vulnerable families—for example, by reducing crop insurance subsidies.... If the President were presented with H.R. 1947, his senior advisors would recommend that he veto the bill.”
Lucas and Peterson did not indicate any reaction to the Statement of Administration Policy. They asked that floor debate be allowed on all the issues, but for the number of amendments to be limited. House members filed 226 amendments to the bill by Monday’s 2 p.m. deadline. The Rules Committee will issue a rule on amendments at 2 p.m. Tuesday.
As is the custom with farm bills, there was a strong spirit of bipartisanship expressed during the Rules hearing. Lucas said that the committee had attempted to write a balanced bill and noted that it passed the committee on a vote of 36-10. Peterson, who chaired the committee before Lucas, said that “in most areas of the bill, if I were chairman I wouldn’t do anything different.”
But Peterson also noted that many Democrats have problems with the size of the cut to SNAP. He said that it would have been his choice to update the eligibility standards and asset tests for SNAP, but that the committee had been unable to do that. Instead, the bill would limit the tie between low-income energy assistance and SNAP qualification and limit the use of what is known as categorical eligibility—a provision from the 1996 welfare-reform law that gives states flexibility to set the income levels and asset tests used to qualify for SNAP. Peterson said he believes it’s not fair that qualification standards vary by state, but he added that the national standard for the value of a car that a SNAP beneficiary can own is only $4,500.
Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., noted that he had offered an amendment in committee to eliminate the SNAP cut. He said he would also offer an amendment on the floor and is currently searching for offsets to remove the $20.5 billion cut in the bill. McGovern said that he expects to fight the bill but that he respected Lucas and Peterson for the difficulty in putting it together.
Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., whose district adjoins Lucas’s, said he has learned from his farm constituents that they need the certainty of a five-year farm bill to make decisions about buying equipment and planting crops.
Rep. Rob Woodall, R-Ga., asked Lucas and Peterson if there were any “poison pills” they would prefer not to see debated. Lucas said any bill can have “an Achilles’ heel,” but he believes this bill has achieved a balance. Peterson noted that he and House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, disagree over the dairy title, but each has agreed to support the bill regardless of how the title turns out on the House floor.
The House schedule calls for the last vote of the week to be held Thursday at 3 p.m., but after the Rules meeting both Lucas and Peterson expressed confidence that the bill will pass by then. “Yes, yes, yes,” Lucas said of Thursday’s final passage.
This article appears in the June 18, 2013 edition of NJ Daily as House Takes Up Farm Bill Under Threat of a Veto.