By Chris Casteel
A day after the House dealt a severe blow to the five-year farm bill, Rep. Tom Cole, R-Moore, on Friday called the failure of the legislation inexcusable. But Tulsa Republican Rep. Jim Bridenstine defended his vote to kill it.
The bill, which would have reformed farm and food stamp programs and save an estimated $20.5 billion over five years, was the product of the House Agriculture Committee. That panel is led by Oklahoma Rep. Frank Lucas, a Republican from Cheyenne.
The bill was defeated by a vote of 195-234, as Democrats rebelled against cuts in the food stamp program and Republicans like Bridenstine rebelled against the total cost of the legislation _ nearly half a trillion dollars over five years.
Cole, whose district includes some of the state's farming communities, praised the work done by Lucas and said passage of the bill would have saved $40 billion over a ten year period.
"I am disappointed that the House failed to vote in favor of this vital piece of legislation and prevented needed reform to agriculture programs and spending," said Cole.
"Chairman Lucas along with members of the House Committee on Agriculture worked tirelessly over the last four years to produce a bill that makes significant reductions to spending while protecting necessary programs. After more than 40 hearings and even a two-year audit of every program, there is no excuse for this failure Yesterday's vote represents a missed opportunity for my House colleagues, the Americans we all represent and the road to economic recovery. This result is inexcusable."
Bridenstine, a freshman who had tea party help in defeating former Republican Rep. John Sullivan last year, echoed the remarks of many conservative groups on Friday who had been calling for Congress to separate the food stamp program _ which comprises the large majority of the bill _ from the farm programs.
"Both the agriculture program and food stamps need major reform," Bridenstine said.
"The two programs must be separated to accomplish real reform. Many people don't realize that over 70% of the spending in the bill went to food stamps."
When the two programs were linked in the 1970s, only 2% of Americans received food entitlements but now 15% of the population is dependent on food stamps, Bridenstine said.
"Apart from consuming $80 billion a year in taxpayer money, the program has created a culture of dependency on the federal government," he said.
"The size of the program doubled under President Bush and has more than doubled again under President Obama's stimulus program. This cannot continue."
Lucas' bill would have cut $2 billion a year from the food stamp program. And, as he and others have pointed out, nothing will get cut if the farm bill isn't approved.
Rep. James Lankford, R-Oklahoma City, said, "I am disappointed that the many significant reforms in this important bill did not pass the House Farmers, who have worked with Chairman Lucas and the Agriculture Committee to provide clarity on outdated agriculture programs, encouraged the significant reforms in this bill. I personally heard from a number of Oklahoma farmers and ranchers impacted by this bill who supported it.
"The bill made three important reforms to the SNAP food stamp program that protect qualified beneficiaries from fraudulent use of benefits. The legislation required that beneficiaries actually qualify for benefits and use the food stamps for food. It also allowed states to add a work requirement to receive SNAP benefits that applied to able-bodied workers without dependents. SNAP is intended to be a transitional safety net for needy Americans. People who are fraudulently receiving benefits are taking resources away from the families who need them most.
"While this bill did not have every reform I would have preferred, it significantly reformed the broken status quo."
Rep. Markwayne Mullin, R-Westville, who operates a ranch in addition to his plumbing company, voted for the bill.
Bridenstine was the only one of the five Oklahomans in the House to oppose the bill. However, both of Oklahoma's senators opposed the Senate version of the farm bill earlier this month.