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Glickman: House farm bill still a hopeful sign for Congress

2013_0618_FRACdinner
A panel of former House members spoke at last week's Food Research Action Center Dinner. From left are Charles Stenholm, D-Texas; Dan Glickman, D-Kan.; Eva Clayton, D-N.C., and James Walsh, D-N.Y., with moderator Eleanor Clift. (Jerry Hagstrom/The Hagstrom Report)


As the farm bill headed to the House floor, former Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman, also a former House member from Kansas, said last week that he still considers the ability of the House Agriculture Committee to come up with a bipartisan bill to be one of the most hopeful signs in the current Congress — and that he considers the connection between farm programs and nutrition programs a “star” in the legislative firmament.

Speaking on a panel of former House members at the June 12 Food Research Action Center dinner, Glickman, who represented the Wichita area for 18 years before his defeat in 1994, said he had been heartened by watching the current House Agriculture Committee come to agreement on amendments.

Dan Glickman

Dan Glickman
“There are a lot of disincentives about working across the aisle — the tribal atmosphere, the money. It is tough the way Congress has districted itself,” said Glickman, who is now associated with the Bipartisan Policy Center, the Aspen Institute and AGree.

“It is always the darkest before the dawn,” he added. “I am cautiously optimistic about the future of the legislative process. The hope is that the public pressures the members. We have no alternative. If not, we will do nothing in this Congress and the world will pass us by.”

James Walsh

James Walsh
Former Rep. James Walsh, R-N.Y., said that since the Republicans won the congressional election in 1994, “both parties have tasted majority status and they like it.”

The current problem, he said, is that Congress has ceded too much power to the executive branch and Congress has ceded to much power to the leadership. Congressional leaders take a political track while committee chairs are more likely to take a policy track, he said.

Both Walsh and former Rep. Eva Clayton, D-N.C., said that it is important to get the message to the American public that the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, better known as SNAP or food stamps, is working for the beneficiaries.

Eva Clayton

Eva Clayton
Speaking of the cuts proposed this year, Clayton said it is unconscionable to balance the budget on the backs of the poor.

She acknowledged that the number of people in the food stamp program had gone up during the recession, but she noted in response to complaints about growth in the program, “We didn’t fret over giving more money to Wall Street.”

Former Rep. Charles Stenholm, D-Texas, said, however, that he believes that the budget deficit is so big there will have to be some cut to the food stamp program.

Charles Stenholm

Charles Stenholm
Stenholm said he would like to see more energy applied to the management side of food stamps. Stenholm also said that the only farm program he can now justify is crop insurance.

Clayton and Glickman both said one of the answers to maintaining support for nutrition programs is higher voter participation.

“We have the most advanced food security program in the world in this country. It has kept us out of deep poverty,” Glickman said. “There is another player in this situation, the American public. If they engage they can have great influence.”