CANTON - The nutrition bill passed by House Republicans on Thursday, which includes a $39 billion cut over the next decade to food stamps, has set the stage for a heated debate with the Democratic-led Senate to iron out a final farm bill.
Leaders from both parties will attempt to reach a compromise on a farm bill by the end of the year. Though an extension of the current farm bill technically expires Sept. 30, Congress has a final deadline of Dec. 31 to pass legislation that would take effect retroactively on Oct. 1.
To reach a compromise, though, Republicans must be willing to substantially reduce the $39 billion cut, said U.S. Rep. William L. Owens, D-Plattsburgh. Not one Democrat voted in favor of the nutrition bill that passed the House on Thursday in a 217-210 vote.
We all knew we were moving into this $40 billion number in the House, Mr. Owens said during a telephone interview Friday. I think the silver lining now is were actually going to get to conference on the farm bill.
Mr. Owens said he is cautiously optimistic that Congress will approve a farm bill this year to avoid having to extend the current bill another year. But, he said, members of Congress from both parties, including himself, will have to compromise on cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
The Senate in May approved an overall farm bill that included $4 billion in cuts to food stamps over a decade.
About 41,000 people receive food stamps in New Yorks 21st Congressional District, Mr. Owens said.
Veterans, seniors and children are a fairly broad swath of food stamp recipients in the district, Mr. Owens said. I think whatever number of cuts get approved is going to have to be reasonable, and its going to have to be closer to the Senate number than the House number if we can reach a compromise.
Mr. Owens said dairy farmers in the north country, who rely on federal programs, are tired of congressional inaction and unwillingness to compromise on the farm bill.
They were disappointed when the farm bill approved in 2008 was extended for a year in 2012, and they dont want to be let down a second time.
This time, though, Mr. Owens believes that more Republicans and Democrats wont be satisfied with a deadlock.
But from a numbers standpoint, he said, there are about 40 to 60 House Republicans on the far right of the political spectrum who have the power to play a spoiler role.
I hear cynicism from everyone, whether theyre a Democrat, independent or Republican, he said. But were in a scenario where theres a group of people in Congress who have worked hard to support compromised legislation, and it has been blocked by a limited number of people from the tea party and far right, and to some extent Democrats on the far left in Congress. Ive talked with lots of the Republicans about this, and they all recognize these kind of extreme positions dont allow us to move forward.
Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand, D-N.Y., a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, described the nutrition bill passed Thursday in the House as draconian legislation that would directly punish the hungry.
Families who are living in poverty hungry children, seniors, troops and veterans who are just trying to figure out how to keep the lights on and put food on the table did not spend this nation into debt, and we should not be trying to balance the budget on their backs, she said in a prepared statement. They deserve better than what happened in Congress.