Ag Legislating is a “Heavy Lift” in D.C.

The food stamp food fight is continuing between House Republicans and USDA after a failed attempt to reform SNAP food choices this fiscal year. House Ag Appropriations Chair and physician Andy Harris isn’t giving up on his idea for a voluntary pilot to restrict unhealthy food choices under SNAP, a continuing GOP target in spending and farm bills.

Harris to USDA Secretary Vilsack at a recent hearing said, “Since your first appointment as Secretary of Ag, the obesity rates among U.S. adults has increased by almost nine percent from 33. 8 percent 2007 and 2008 to 42 percent of Americans in 2017-2018.”

Vilsack couldn’t say if SNAP education programs have reduced recipient obesity but tried to turn the tables on Harris. Vilsack said, “If indeed the goal here is for taxpayer dollars to be linked to more nutritious decisions, are you going to make that same decision for farm emergency relief? A farmer gets an emergency check from the government, cashes it, goes to the grocery store, are you going to restrict him. Why not? Fundamentally, that’s the issue. (arguing) It’s absolutely, the issue.” Harris: “I’m reclaiming my time.”

Harris then challenged Vilsack if it makes any sense to let SNAP recipients buy unhealthy food when there’s an obesity epidemic. Vilsack said, “It’s not just poor people that are obese. It’s middle-income people, it’s rich people. It’s an issue all across the country.” Harris: “Mr. Secretary, the difference is we’re not buying food (Vilsack: but you are) for middle-class people (Vilsack: but you are, absolutely you are). Mr. Secretary, I’m not gonna…(Vilsack: if you get any federal assistance). If you think providing sugary beverages and salty snacks is a good idea (Vilsack: I don’t think that).”

That’s the latest example of why Ag legislating remains a heavy lift on Capitol Hill.

Story provided by Matt Kaye, Berns Bureau, Washington, D.C.