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U.S. farm bill vote will test Cotton, Pryor positions

On Monday, federal lawmakers announced that an agreement on a U.S. farm bill had been made. The move includes a variety of changes that Senate and House members have opposed, and an upcoming vote on the measure could make for headlines in Arkansas' U.S. Senate race.

U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton, R-Dardanelle, is campaigning to unseat U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., and previously voted against the farm bill. Pryor has supported the legislation.

The farm bill that emerged from a conference committee is designed to, according to the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, reform numerous agri programs and eliminate almost 100 programs that are considered duplicative.

Other aspects of the bill, according to the Senate committee, include:
• Repeals the direct payment program and strengthens risk management tools;
• Strengthens conservation efforts to protect land, water and wildlife for future generations;
• Maintains food assistance for families while addressing fraud and misuse in SNAP;
• Reduces the deficit by billions of dollars in mandatory spending;
• Strengthens and modernizes crop insurance programs;
• Provides a livestock disaster assistance program;
• Consolidates 23 conservation programs into 13 programs; and
• Seeks to boost export opportunities for U.S. farmers.

A primary point of dispute with the Farm Bill has been over the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which is commonly referred to as the food stamp program. Senate leaders and the White House have objected to the deeper cuts in SNAP funding. House members, particularly more conservative members of the Republican caucus, have said the SNAP cuts did not go far enough, even calling for separate consideration of the program outside of the scope of farm bill. Cotton was one of the House members to call for SNAP to be considered separate from a farm bill.

“The bipartisan farm bill conference agreement maintains critical assistance for families while stopping fraud and misuse to achieve savings in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP),” noted a statement from the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry. “The farm bill agreement closes a loophole being used by some states to artificially inflate benefits for a small number of recipients. Additionally, the bipartisan agreement stops lottery winners from continuing to receive assistance, increases program efficiency, cracks down on trafficking, fraud and misuse, and invests in new pilot programs to help people secure employment through job training and other services.”

In 2013, Pryor voted for the Senate's version of the bill. Cotton voted against the measure initially in the House, but voted for a second version that was steered to the conference committee. Cotton was the only member of Arkansas’ six member Congressional delegation to vote against the initial bill. Republicans U.S. Sen. John Boozman and Reps. Rick Crawford, Tim Griffin and Steve Womack voted for the bill.

“I had hoped this bill would be good for Arkansas farmers and taxpayers, but it turned out badly for both. President Obama’s failed policies have turned what should be a Farm Bill into the Food Stamp Bill, expanding by $300 billion a food-stamp program riddled with fraud and abuse,” Cotton said in his statement after voting against the bill.

The House is expected to vote on the conference farm bill as early as Wednesday (Jan. 29) with the Senate expected to follow.

Pryor said he will vote for the bill that emerged from the conference committee.

“I’m pleased to see that the conference committee has reached a bipartisan agreement. I hope my colleagues in the House will turn off the politics and help us get this bill over the finish line. Our agriculture sector — which contributes $17 billion to Arkansas’s economy alone — needs certainty to stay strong and thrive,” Pryor said in a statement.

Caroline Rabbitt, communications director for Cotton’s office, said the Congressman does not have a statement about the bill because he “is still reviewing the legislation.”

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In the past two months, Cotton’s Congressional office has sent mailers to 4th District constituents outlining his reasons why he believes a farm bill should not include funding for SNAP.

The Arkansas Farm Bureau said it will not issue a comment until after the vote.

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