Boozman: Farm Debate Will Go Past Month’s End

FAYETTEVILLE — Congress will likely extend the current farm program through 2013 while it works on a compromise bill, Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., said Friday.

Boozman, a cattle rancher who lives in Rogers, was one of 12 U.S. senators assigned to the conference committee to hammer out a compromise with the House. House leadership hasn’t

At A Glance

Food Stamps

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, popularly known as Food Stamps, provides financial assistance for food to low- and no-income people in the U.S. It’s a federal program administered by the Department of Agriculture, though benefits are distributed by individual states. The stamps can be used to purchase any prepackaged edible foods, regardless of nutritional value. Hot foods (such as those found in a supermarket deli) are ineligible, as well as items in fast food restaurants and similar retail settings.

Source: Department of Agriculture

named its members to the conference committee, but is expected to do so shortly after Congress convenes Sept. 9.

The core of the dispute in Congress is the nutrition portion of the package, Boozman said Friday after a tour of an Elkins-area turkey farm.

“That’s the hardest part we’ll have in agreeing on something, and it’s 80 percent of the spending in a trillion-dollar bill,” Boozman said. “Farm programs and everything else are just 20 percent. The difficulty is making cuts that enough liberals and conservatives will support to get it passed.”

Nutrition programs include those formerly known as Food Stamps, along with school lunches and others.

The House failed to pass a farm bill that included nutrition programs. The Senate did. Authorization for farm programs runs out at the end of September when the federal fiscal year ends. Congress hasn’t passed a bill authorizing money for farm legislation beyond that date.

Tyler Clark, chairman of Washington County Democrats, said this latest delay fits a recurring pattern.

“It’s mind-boggling to me how Congress pushes off what can be done today to tomorrow,” Clark said.

Arkansas in general and the 3rd Congressional District in particular have a very large number of children living in poverty who depend on federal nutrition programs, which are included in the farm bill, Clark said.

Farm legislation alone “has always been more of a regional issue than a partisan one,” Boozman said. “When a senator from Delaware comes to you and says we need to talk about chickens, since Delaware is a major poultry state, you realize that a lot of older, eastern states are very, very agriculture oriented.”

Boozman still believes the nutrition and farming portions of the bill will have to be combined to get enough votes for passage, but said Friday that might not be necessary. He said earlier this month a split bill would never pass the Senate. The House passed farm program legislation after splitting the two portions of the bill.

“There are conservation and research programs in the bill too that need to be funded,” Boozman said.

Research programs have lobbyists to protect them, Clark said. Poor people who need nutrition programs don’t, he said. That’s why the two have always been linked politically, so that interests between those who sell food and those who can’t afford to buy it will be linked, he said.