JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) – The New Year brings a new challenge for Congress to finally pass a new bill that controls farm subsidies.
The current farm bill expired on New Year's Day, and Representative Rick Crawford, a Republican representing Northeast Arkansas, said he's optimistic that a deal can be reached soon.
"The first three days that we'll be back in session," the Congressman said, "will be spent in public conference finalizing the bill and could have a conference report as early as Friday , [January 10], so we're going to be working hard on that as a priority as soon as we get back there to get that done."
When Congress reconvenes on January 7, Rep. Crawford said one of the biggest hindrances to approval will be over funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, better known as the federal food stamps program. He claimed that lawmakers have already reached some kind of consensus on this controversial issue.
"We're going to see around $8 billion in cuts," Rep. Crawford said, "but I think you need to focus on what some of the significant reforms are. That's critical in making sure that those resources are available to people that need them as opposed to continuing to allow some of the systemic exploitations of some of the loopholes that you see in some states. Arkansas is not one of them. Arkansas does a good job administering these federal programs with nutrition – SNAP, WIC and so on – so Arkansas is virtually unaffected by that."
One of the contentious reforms on the table right now is to allow states the flexibility to pass their own work requirements for food stamp recipients.
"There is some language in [the bill], and that's one of the issues that we'll address in the final public conference," Rep. Crawford explained.
In addition to finalizing a new farm bill, the White House is pushing lawmakers to extend jobless benefits that ended this week for 1.3 million people. The Democratic-led Senate signaled that it may propose an extension, but Congressman Crawford said if anything that would extend unemployment benefits comes before the House, he would vote it down.
"I think 99 weeks [of unemployment funding] is a pretty sufficient level of support [for people], and we've reached that point," he said. "I don't think we go any further not in $17 trillion in debt and an additional $1.3 trillion in entitlement spending as this health care law calls for."
Many people may be holding their breath that Congress will ever reach a deal on either proposal since they are regarded by most as one of the least productive and least popular. Rep. Crawford, who is seeking a third term this year, said he is not concerned right now about how that would affect his chances to get re-elected.
"I'm not really thinking about that," he said. "I think what we have to do is to focus on the business of the First District of Arkansas. I'm elected to represent the First District and not worry about polls and positioning and what people think of Congress."