No stamp of approval

Rep. Doug LaMalfa criticized for farm-bill vote

Rep. Doug LaMalfa talks about frivolous law suits during a press conference in Chico last month.

Rep. Doug LaMalfa talks about frivolous law suits during a press conference in Chico last month.

FILE PHOTO BY Howard hardee

Rep. Doug LaMalfa (R-Richvale) is one of 14 Republican members of Congress sharply criticized last week by Rep. George Miller (D-Martinez) for taking, among them, $7.2 million in crop subsidies over the last 10 years as provided by farm bills and then voting July 11 to adopt a farm bill that does not include funding for the nation’s food-stamp program.

That program, now called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), was first folded into the farm bill that passed in 1973 as a way to attract urban political support to help pass legislation for rural parts of the country such as subsidized farm crops. Food stamps have been included in the farm bill in each of its seven updates since.

In June, the House Agricultural Committee moved to increase farm subsidies and cut $20 billion from SNAP over the next 10 years. That was rejected by the full House of Representatives, who on July 11 passed H.R. 2642, the Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management (FARRM) bill that eliminates all food-stamp funding.

The bill passed on a vote of 216 to 208, with 196 Democrats joined by 12 Republicans in voting against it. Six Republicans and five Democrats did not vote. The effort to boot food stamps from the bill may have been signaled back in May, when a LaMalfa-sponsored amendment to the bill was passed.

Apparently the rookie U.S. lawmaker, whose Richvale family rice farm has collected $5.1 million in subsidies since 1995, harbors suspicions about the food-stamp program and how it is administered. A press release announced the passage of the amendment “that requires electronic fraud-prevention measures and eliminates bonus pay for signing up new recipients.”

In the release LaMalfa says, “Modernizing the program to ensure that assistance goes only to those who need it means that we can spend less while continuing to help friends and neighbors who have fallen on hard times.”

At a number of candidate debates over the years, LaMalfa has used the same retort on those who question crop subsidies: “Don’t criticize farmers when your mouth is full.”

Miller’s report on the farm-bill vote is titled “Pork Barrel Politics.”

“It’s outrageous that some members of Congress feel it is OK to vote for their own taxpayer subsidies but against critical nutrition assistance for 47 million Americans,” Miller writes. “It’s bad enough that the House of Representatives didn’t pass a farm bill that included authorization for sorely needed nutrition programs, but to see members of Congress approving their own benefits at the expense of the working poor is a new low, even for this Congress.”

And in a scathing column referencing the report, the Los Angeles Times’ Michael Hiltzik writes that the vote by the 14 to not include food stamps “amounts to taking the food out of the mouths of children of the unemployed and working poor, while lining their own suit coats with bacon.”

However, House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas of Oklahoma had a far different take in a statement issued the day the bill was passed: “Today was an important step toward enacting a five-year farm bill this year that gives our farmers and ranchers certainty, provides regulatory relief to small businesses across the country, significantly reduces spending, and makes common-sense, market-oriented reforms to agricultural policy. I look forward to continuing conversations with my House colleagues and starting conversations with my Senate colleagues on a path forward that ultimately gets a farm bill to the President’s desk in the coming months.”

A call to LaMalfa’s Washington, D.C., office asking for the congressman’s reaction to Miller’s report was not returned by press time. Kevin Eastman, LaMalfa’s communications and legislative director, took exception to the report.

“Mr. Miller is mischaracterizing the house farm bill because it did not include food stamps,” he said. “That’s different. Nothing could further from the truth. The ag policy expires at the end of September. The food-stamp program will not expire. It will continue.”

In other words, the food-stamp program needs to be passed in a separate bill that the Republican-controlled House and the Democratic-controlled Senate can somehow agree on. And that elusive agreement is what now awaits the fate of the House’s farm bill just as the members of Congress embark on their August leave.

In his L.A. Times column, Hiltzik said LaMalfa was his favorite character in Miller’s report, noting that at the May 15 hearing on the farm bill, the local congressman “embarked on a lengthy discourse about the Bible, the church, godliness, and Congress’ responsibility for the poor.”

In that address, LaMalfa said, “I think we’re all pretty loving people here that want to help the poor. But government has not provided those solutions. It’s failing. And to think that we can’t retract just a little bit of the spending [on food stamps] over something that’s grown exponentially in the last three or four years to try to get this reform in place.”

Hiltzik points out that there are 27,457 people on food stamps in LaMalfa’s district in Butte County alone.

“That’s 11 percent of his neighbors who would go without,” Hiltzik writes, “thanks to LaMalfa’s vote to eliminate benefits. Hope he eats well at dinnertime.”