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Donnelly wants farm bill, food stamps kept together

Funding for food stamps has overshadowed agriculture policy in congressional debate about a five-year farm bill.

The Senate this week rejected farm-bill amendments to cancel food-stamp spending reductions, make greater spending cuts and turn the program into grants for states to administer.

Sen. Dan Coats, R-Ind., voted in favor of the latter two measures. Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., opposed all three.

Donnelly, a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, said Wednesday that despite the battles about the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, he supports keeping SNAP as part of the farm bill.

“It engages our friends who may be from more urban or more suburban areas,” Donnelly said in a telephone conference call with reporters. “And so the presence of both elements in there helps to enable us to have enough votes to pass a farm bill, to do all the things we need to do in agriculture.”

Some lawmakers, including Rep. Marlin Stutzman, R-Ind., advocate separating SNAP from the farm bill. But Donnelly said that without a balance of urban and rural interests, “I don’t know that either of them would pass standing alone.”

Congress spends about $100 billion a year on the farm bill, with about $80 billion going to food stamps.

Donnelly said he and Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, are sponsoring a farm-bill amendment that would prevent the Environmental Protection Agency from releasing personal information on farmers.

The EPA acknowledged in April that it mistakenly gave personal information on thousands of farmers to environmental groups.

“This was an outrageous violation,” Donnelly said.

It is not clear when, or if, the Donnelly-Grassley amendment will receive a floor vote.

Sen. Dan Coats, R-Ind., said in a floor speech Wednesday that he hopes the “planting flexibility” legislation that he and Donnelly introduced in April will be considered for inclusion in the farm bill.

Their proposal would lift federal restrictions on where farmers can plant certain crops. Indiana is among seven states in a pilot program that allows farmers to grow specialty crops on acres designated for corn, soybeans and wheat.

Coats also said he supports an amendment to reduce federal subsidies for the sugar industry.

“I think we should be pursuing policies that allow the free market to determine the cost of sugar rather than this complicated web of tariffs and the regulations … that protect that price,” Coats said in remarks broadcast by C-SPAN.