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Farm bill cuts would hit food stamps

Rep. Collin Peterson

Complying with GOP mandates to reduce spending, the House Agricultural Committee voted Wednesday to cut $33 billion over 10 years to the nation's cornerstone nutrition program.

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program - formerly known as food stamps - aids 46.5 million low-income Americans each month, including 535,400 in Minnesota and 59,500 in North Dakota.

While the proposed cuts to SNAP are politically driven and aren't likely to take effect, they highlight a partisan debate over budget priorities during a heated campaign year.

The Ag Committee's desire to cut SNAP funding stems from demands in the House Republicans' controversial so-called Ryan budget, approved by the House this month and named for Budget Chairman Paul Ryan.

The Ryan plan required six House committees to propose cuts, in order to prevent across-the-board cuts to defense spending.

SNAP was the only chosen target for the Ag Committee's required reductions, but the decision lacked bipartisan support.

Minnesota Democratic Rep. Collin Peterson, the committee's ranking member, criticized the cuts as "a waste of time," since the Democratic-controlled Senate won't take up the Ryan plan anyway.

"The proposal before us is not serious," Peterson said. "Taking a meat ax to nutrition programs that feed millions of hardworking families, in an effort to avoid defense cuts, is not a serious way to achieve deficit reduction. No wonder no one likes Congress."

North Dakota Republican Rep. Rick Berg praised the Ag Committee's plan because "not one penny" was taken away from production agriculture programs.

"Today was a great day for North Dakota agriculture," said Berg, who doesn't sit on the Agriculture Committee.

Berg said the committee sought to find savings by cutting funding to "low-priority, duplicative or wasteful" programs.

Berg added, though, that "there's not one person that currently qualifies (for SNAP) that's cut from the program" because of the proposed reductions.

Nonetheless, Berg continues to take heat from critics over his party's fiscal priorities and his support for the Ryan plan.

In a media conference call Wednesday, Berg shot down recent "false political attacks" from his main competitor in this year's U.S. Senate race, Democrat Heidi Heitkamp.

Last week, Heitkamp blasted Berg's support for the Ryan plan, which proposes cutting $180 billion in future farm bill spending.

Berg said Heitkamp was using "political scare tactics" by emphasizing the $180 billion over the $33 billion in immediate cuts.

However, Berg sidestepped a reporter's question about his specific support for the proposed $180 billion in future cuts.

"There's not absolutely everything in the budget proposal that I agree with," Berg said, saying the figure is only a "suggestion."

"There's no teeth," Berg added.

Heitkamp's campaign said Berg's statements smack of "doublespeak," since the Ryan plan could likely be held up as a standard when lawmakers debate the 2012 farm bill.

"That sounds like an excuse to try and paper over a vote that slashes programs that North Dakota's agriculture community depends on," Heitkamp spokesman Brandon Lorenz said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Kristen Daum at (701) 241-5541

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