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Farm bill with cuts to food stamps splits Democrats

“This farm bill is not worth advancing if there is a $20 billion cut in SNAP,” Rep. James McGovern said. AP/File

WASHINGTON — The House Agriculture Committee will consider a farm bill Wednesday that contains a $20.5 billion cut over 10 years to the food stamp program, drawing objections from committee member James McGovern, Democrat of Worcester.

But McGovern is unlikely to halt the measure’s progress. Even some of his fellow minority Democrats on the committee want to keep the bill on track because of their desire to continue agricultural subsidies in rural districts.

“This farm bill is not worth advancing if there is a $20 billion cut in SNAP,” McGovern said, using the acronym for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. “There are some people who think we ought to just go along with this, even though we don’t like it. But my view is that if we do that, we have no leverage in conference.”


Subsidies to the hungry have been historically lumped into the federal government’s assistance to farmers to keep members representing urban districts from ignoring the interests of rural farmers. In the House bill, farmers are expected to see a $22 billion cut to their commodity subsidies, crop insurance, and conservation programs.

The farm bill stalled last year but it must be reauthorized by Sept. 30 to keep funds flowing to any of the programs it supports.

Many rural Democrats on the House Agriculture Committee, such as North Carolina’s Mike McIntyre, are not willing to put farmers at risk and prolong uncertainty over crop subsidies. Unlike SNAP, farm subsidies are not immune from sequestration.

In a letter sent to House Speaker John A. Boehner in March, McIntyre said: “Weather, input, costs, and market volatility are out of our control, but the Farm Bill should not be. . . . Please allow this legislation to come to the floor and be voted upon so that we can preserve and promote the necessary food and fiber needs for our nation and economic advancement for rural America.”


Ranking member Collin Peterson of Minnesota is a co-sponsor of the bill and has led the push to be sure it reaches the House floor this summer.

If the proposed SNAP cuts are carried out, more than 7,500 of the 27,724 households receiving food assistance in McGovern’s district would lose it, according to estimates

But committee chairman Frank Lucas said that the bill’s proposed cuts to SNAP “won’t take a calorie off the plate of anyone who needs help.”

The Senate Agriculture Committee passed its own version of the farm bill — with far fewer cuts — on Tuesday. That measure contains $4.1 million in cuts for food stamps.


Republican effort to tighten immigrant IDs defeated

WASHINGTON — Senators weighing a landmark immigration bill have defeated an effort by Republicans to require biometric identification to track who is entering and leaving the country.

The amendment was by Senator Jeff Sessions, Republican of Alabama, who said that without such a system, the legislation would not be able to achieve true border security.

An author of the bill, Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, agreed with Sessions that biometric IDs are the most secure.

But he said authors of the bill determined they were too costly to implement anytime soon.

Instead the bill seeks electronic scanning of photo IDs.

The Senate Judiciary Committee voted 12 to 6 to defeat Sessions’ amendment as it resumed work Tuesday.



Committee OK’s bill to boost communications on visas

WASHINGTON — Citing problems exposed by the Boston Marathon bombings, senators weighing amendments to the immigration bill agreed Tuesday to boost security provisions around student visas.

The Senate Judiciary Committee agreed by voice vote to an amendment by Senator Chuck Grassley, Republican of Iowa, meant to ensure that border agents at ports of entry have access to information on the status of student visas.

The committee action follows recent disclosures that a student from Kazakhstan accused of hiding evidence for one of the Boston bombing suspects was allowed to return to the United States in January without a valid student visa.

The student visa for Azamat Tazhayakov had been terminated when he arrived in New York on Jan. 20. But the border agent in the airport did not have access to the information in the Department of Homeland Security’s Student and Exchange Visitor Information System, called SEVIS.

Grassley’s amendment would require the Department of Homeland Security to certify that data from SEVIS is transferred into the databases used by Customs and Border Protection at US ports of entry.

If that is not done within 120 days of enactment, issuing of student visas would be suspended.

‘‘This will plug a loophole in terms of the tragic Boston Marathon bombing,’’ said Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York, an author of the immigration bill. ‘‘It really strengthens the bill and shows that our bill . . . is going to make things better in terms of terrorism.’’


The committee also agreed to a second Grassley amendment aimed at cracking down on fraud in the student visa program.

Two of the Sept. 11 terrorists entered the United States via student visas and Grassley said that demonstrated problems with the program. His second amendment, also approved by voice vote, would tighten accreditation requirements for schools hosting foreign students and prohibit flight schools not certified by the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Aviation Administration from offering student visas.