ELKHART — It’s time to reform the farm bill, take the food stamps program out of it, U.S. Rep. Marlin Stutzman thinks.
“The farm bill is no longer a farm bill. It’s really a food bill and it’s more about food stamps,” he said Tuesday, addressing a gathering of farmers and farm leaders here.
Indeed, he’s submitted a proposal to carve the food stamps program out of the overall bill. Extended over 10 years, the bill has a price tag of perhaps $1 trillion, with 80 percent of that, or $800 billion, earmarked for food stamps and other similar programs unrelated to farming.
“It’s now so out of balance that I feel like we need to separate it, we need to get it under control, we need to reform it,” Stutzman said, speaking long distance from Washington, D.C. via a video feed to the group at the Matterhorn Conference Center.
Stutzman, who represents Indiana’s 3rd District in the U.S. House, even expounded on the idea in a Wall Street Journal column. And though the Howe Republican suspects the farm bill will remain intact for now, people are at least talking, and “we’ve definitely started that discussion,” he said.
Aside from food stamps, the farm bill outlines U.S. policy toward farmers, specifiying production subsidies, among many other things. Having the disparate matters under the umbrella of one bill complicates debate. “It muddies up the discussion, it muddies up the policy debate,” said Stutzman.
He also noted abuses with the food stamps program — recipients with $40 worth of assistance on debit cards selling them for $25 cash, for instance. The food stamps program, actually the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, belongs “in some other welfare program,” he said.
His questions notwithstanding, Stutzman suspects a farm bill plan will pass “sooner rather than later.” A one-year extension of the existing bill could be in the offing by year’s end.
Stutzman also touched on the fiscal cliff, the mix of federal spending cuts and tax increases set to take effect Jan. 1 to help balance the U.S. budget. Lawmakers are scrambling to craft an alternative plan to dodge the worst effects of the change.
Part of the debate has centered on the mix of spending cuts and new revenue sources that should be in the alternative and Stutzmen sided with focusing first on reduced spending. “Again, Washington doesn’t have a revenue problem, it has a spending problem,” he said.
He’s OK with new revenue sources, from reducing tax incentives and tax loopholes or reducing subsidies. He opposes tax increases, though, as favored by President Obama on wealthier Americans via tweaks to tax cuts implemented under President George W. Bush.
“Just to raise the rates, I think, is a lazy way to do it,” Stutzman said later Tuesday in a phone interview.
Stutzman’s district currently includes much of eastern and southern Elkhart County, including Goshen and southern Elkhart. In January, the entire county, per redistricting, will become part of the 2nd District, currently represented by Democrat Joe Donnelly and to be representated by Republican Jackie Walorski starting with the new term next year.
Walorski, elected to the 2nd District post earlier this month, briefly addressed Tuesday’s gathering, co-sponsored by The Elkhart Truth and News/Talk 95.3 MNC. She left early to travel to Washington for U.S. House orientation sessions.