Offered by Arkansas Rep. Rick Crawford and Iowa Rep. Leonard Boswell, Amendment 71 “would require a workload assessment be implemented and provided to the public before any (Farm Service Agency) county office closure take place and that the same comment period, and reporting to counties and Congress take place before any closure or relocation happens after a work load assessment is completed.”

When USDA announced plans in January to close FSA offices “as part of their so-called ‘Blueprint for Stronger Service’ my constituents and I were troubled because they closed two of the busiest and most efficient offices in the First District of Arkansas,” said Crawford.

“Later I came to learn that USDA never factored in productivity when they determined which offices to close. … All the amendment is asking of the USDA is to make decisions in an economical way and recognize the importance of efficiency.”

The amendment led to a lengthy debate reflecting the unhappiness of many farmers with the USDA plan.

Peterson “reluctantly” opposed the amendment. “People need to understand we’re cutting the budget. I’ve been there voting to cut things and get the budget under control. When you do that, there will be impacts. The (Agriculture) Secretary is under tremendous pressure. He put together a plan about how to” cut the USDA budget.

“I don’t think” the amendment, continued Peterson, “is fair to the secretary given the fact that we’ve made him reduce his budget.”

Lucas, too, expressed sympathy for Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “This is a tough process. … I’ve had an (FSA) office closed in my district, so I understand the impact on communities. But (Peterson) is correct: if we’re going to advocate a slimmer, more efficient federal government, if we’re going to empower the federal government to make these decisions, then, alas, we have to abide by the decisions they’ve made. So, I must reluctantly oppose the amendment.”

Despite the committee leadership’s opposition, amendment 71 was adopted by voice vote and closed out amendments to the Commodity Title.

The committee then moved on to a volatile topic: nutrition program funding.

Amendment 101, offered by Alabama Rep. Martha Roby and passed on a voice vote, requires “that state agencies that issue SNAP benefits must verify, through a mandatory process, the immigration status of applicants who apply for such benefits.”

As expected, the lengthiest, most passionate debate came over the committee’s proposal to cut SNAP funding by $16.5 billion over the next 10 years. Amendment 21 would have restored that funding.

“These cuts are, in my opinion, misguided and hurtful,” said amendment sponsor Massachusetts Rep. James McGovern. “They literally take food away from hungry people, people who are poor, people who are the working poor, people struggling to feed their families. … These cuts will result in less food for hungry Americans, period.”

Quoting CBO analysis, McGovern and other Democrats claimed under FARMM up to three million people would be cut from SNAP roles. Currently, some 46 million receive food stamp benefits.

It was during the back-and-forth over SNAP funding that partisan politics fully emerged. Lawmakers brought everything from repealing “Obamacare” to raising taxes on income over $250,000 to cutting Defense Department spending to the argument.

“How can we justify $16.5 billion in cuts to the food stamp program when 75 percent of SNAP recipients are families with young children?” asked Ohio Rep. Marcia Fudge. “How can we justify these cuts when 25 percent are senior citizens or people with disabilities? I am ashamed this committee has decided to target over 46 million people in America who depend on this essential lifeline.”

Facing such withering criticism, Republicans pushed back.

“Much of the conversation,” said Texas Rep. Michael Conaway, “has been in terms of every single SNAP recipient having their benefits reduced. That’s not the way I understand what we’ve done here. We’re simply limiting folks who don’t qualify under the income levels to get into the SNAP program.”

The $16.5 billion, continued Conaway, is “a two percent reduction in planned growth in this program over the next 10 years. And yet the other side talks about 5 to 7 percent of recipients being impacted, or thrown off the program. I have a hard time making those numbers work in my head. … Some of my colleagues would like to vote to trim food stamp even more than the ($16.5 billion) in this bill.”

Goodlatte, very active during the markup, also weighed in. “If they’re eligible, if they’re below the income levels, below the asset levels, people can go in and get food stamps. This won’t change that.”

$480 million of the $16.5 billion would come from eliminating “state performance bonuses,” said Goodlatte. “The states are responsible for administering the SNAP program. … It’s hard to justify awarding state bonuses on the taxpayer dime in this economic climate.”

The amendment failed to pass on a 31-15 vote.