REPUBLICAN takeover of the U.S. House following the 2010 midterm elections put Rep. Frank Lucas in control of the House Agriculture Committee. It's his job to help shepherd a new farm bill to completion, which is sure to provide as stiff a test as Lucas has had in 18 years in Congress.
Look no further than the food stamp program, which comprises nearly 80 percent of the spending in the current farm bill. That bill is set to expire Sept. 30, so the race is on — in an election year — to get a new one written.
Last week Lucas, R-Cheyenne, presented a plan to reduce total spending by $35 billion over 10 years, with $16 billion of that coming from cuts to food stamps (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP). That's a lot of money, but it represents only 2 percent of the estimated $770 billion the Senate Budget Committee estimates will be spent on the food stamp program in the next decade.
Even so, the Democrat-controlled Senate clearly doesn't have the stomach for anything more than a nominal cut to the program — the bill it approved last month would trim just $4 billion from food stamps.
Lucas told The Oklahoman's Chris Casteel that he expects “the nutrition crowd will go ballistic” over his proposed cuts to SNAP. No doubt he's right, because the cuts will be portrayed as taking food from the destitute. The number enrolled in the food stamp program, in Oklahoma and across the country, has grown as a result of the recession, to be sure, but the rolls were expanding long before that.
Now one in seven Americans qualifies for a program that was designed in the 1970s to assist one in 50. Eligibility was expanded in the 2002 farm bill, then again in the 2008 bill, and again with the 2009 stimulus. Senate Republicans last month tried to pass reforms that would have trimmed just $20 billion over 10 years by removing excesses in the program and helping ensure food stamps are going to the truly needy. They failed, prompting The Wall Street Journal to note that “the news in the Senate vote is that the political class isn't remotely serious about reforming government.”
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