By Dan Linehan
---- — Rep. Tim Walz said the recent House passage of a farm bill without food stamps is a victory of extremism over compromise.
After the House voted down a farm bill with food stamps on June 20, Republicans narrowed their political coalition by removing food stamps from the bill, Walz said Friday morning in a conference call with reporters.
Walz said the he “took a lot of heat” for voting for the earlier bill, which included $20 billion in cuts to food stamps. The cuts were achieved mostly through reducing eligibility by allowing states to require that most adults receiving food stamps work 20 hours a week or be in a work training program.
Then, in order to satisfy Republicans who thought the cuts didn’t go far enough, the party’s leaders split food stamps and farm subsidies. The bill passed without any Democratic votes, the first time since 1973 that a farm bill has been passed in either chamber without food stamps, the New York Times reported.
“The politics is wrong because it failed and they tried to narrow the coalition” instead of broaden it, he said.
Walz said the farm bill passed Thursday was “hatched in the middle of the night with no input from groups and brought to the floor under a closed rule.”
In addition to being bad politically, Walz said a food stamp-free farm bill is bad policy.
First, he said, it puts farm subsidies on “autopilot” by making them permanent. And he called the separation of food stamps and farm subsidies “ludicrous.”
“I don’t have constituents who think being hungry is a sin,” he said. “This vote yesterday was not just about food stamps as the Tea Party folks in the House tried to make it. It was about compromise. It was about good, solid food policy.”
However, he noted, food stamps won’t stop just because the House didn’t put them in a bill. The program will continue even without a bill.
“It’s not going to end tomorrow,” Walz said. “It’s not going to be a total calamity,” but there will be no opportunities to change the program without a bill.
Walz said he hopes the public will pressure their representatives to compromise – on both sides.
“There are folks on the Democratic side who don’t think a penny can be saved. They’re wrong.”
Though both the House and Senate have passed farm bills, it will be difficult for the bodies to reconcile two wildly different bills. The Senate bill, passed June 10, includes food stamps and is about five times as costly as the House bill.
Walz has a chance of being appointed to a conference committee to reconcile the bills, should Republican leaders take that step, Walz spokesman Tony Ufkin said in an email.
Walz said the House’s farm bill is a gimmick “to make folks not have to govern.”
“They can go home today and say they passed a farm bill. What you did was fracture a coalition, grow the deficit and make it so it’s not able to be improved,” he said.
Walz suggested there’d be little political incentive to improve the agriculture portion of the farm bill because it’ll be on autopilot.