The House Agriculture Committee rejected efforts Wednesday to roll back sugar subsidies and restore $16.5 billion in proposed cuts to the food-stamp program.
The panel considered more than 100 amendments to a 5-year farm and nutrition bill in advancing the bill to the entire House. The Senate passed its version of the legislation in June.
Each bill would eliminate direct payments to farmers and expand federally subsidized insurance programs to cover financial losses from drops in commodity prices and yields. That provision was also contained in legislation sponsored last year by Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., and Rep. Marlin Stutzman, R-3rd.
Democrats on the House committee pressed for the elimination of planned cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which provides food stamps to low-income people. Amendment sponsor Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., said trimming SNAP “continues a practice of picking on poor people.”
He and amendment supporters insisted at least 2 million people would lose aid under the farm bill.
But Republican lawmakers stressed that the bill was not a cut but a 2 percent reduction in the planned growth of SNAP appropriations over the next 10 years. They said the savings would come largely from denying benefits to unqualified applicants and ending performance bonuses for state agencies that administer food stamps.
“This is not draconian. These are not cuts” to qualified applicants, said Rep. Timothy Johnson, R-Ill.
The amendment failed by a 31-15 vote, with Stutzman joining the majority in opposing the proposal. Stutzman supported a later amendment, which was defeated, to make deeper cuts to food stamps than in the original legislation.
Noting that SNAP spending has jumped from $262 billion in 2002 to $750 billion this year, Stutzman said, “This is out of control.”
The Senate’s farm bill would slice $4 billion from SNAP.
By a 36-10 vote, the House committee defeated an amendment to curb sugar subsidies to 2008 levels. Stutzman, whose family farm in LaGrange County grows soybeans, green beans and corn, voted in favor of the amendment.
Panel members from sugar-producing states argued that if federal price protections and import limits were weakened, a surge in sugar imports from Brazil and Mexico would threaten 142,000 American jobs in the sweetener industry.
But amendment sponsor Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., said sugar subsidies add $3.5 billion a year to consumer food prices and depress job growth in food processing.
Gregg Claeys, president of Claeys Candy Inc. in South Bend, said in a news release this week that U.S. sugar prices are 50 percent higher than elsewhere in the world because of federal subsidies.
“Our own government is causing us not to be competitive,” Claeys said.