Durbin: House GOP ignored "winning formula" with farm bill

(CBS News) It's "un-American" to continue doling out food stamps under the current government program, Rep. Mike Kelly, R-Pa., argued Sunday on "Face the Nation," three days after helping the GOP-controlled House push through a farm bill to fund the agricultural side while ignoring the critical Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

"What bothers me is that one in six Americans right now are on this program," Kelly said. Now, either the economy's not growing at the rate it should, or this program is so badly flawed that we're letting too many people in. The sustainability of this is what concerns me; you can't keep promising things to people that in the future you know you can't sustain. I think it's unfair, and I think it's un-American to do that."

After failing to corral the votes last month for the standard five-year farm bill, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., "said, 'Why don't we break it into two pieces: Let's address the ag piece first, and then we'll do the SNAP program - the nutritional piece - second,'" according to Kelly. "It made sense to me, because we couldn't get agreement on how we should do it."

Kelly insisted Republicans' position doesn't come from a place of refusing to "take care of the most vulnerable." But on the current food stamp system, he added, "we're wasting billions of dollars on a program that doesn't seem to be lifting people out of poverty, but keeps them in a state of poverty. That's not right. That's not American. That's not the way we worked in the past.

"And that's not what our future should hold for us," Kelly went on. "It should be one of blue skies and strong winds on our back and a nation that has everything that God can possibly provide for us here. We have tillable soil and potable water. As far as providing food for people, my goodness, we shouldn't be vulnerable in this country anyplace."

But the answer to Kelly's question about "why so many people are receiving assistance," Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., countered later on the show, is that "their wages and incomes are so low. They're working, but they can't afford to feed their children; elderly people on Social Security not receiving enough to really keep food in the house. That is a problem we should face squarely.

"It isn't a matter of defrauding American taxpayers," he continued. "It's a reflection on the weakness in our economy for a lot of hardworking families."

Durbin said the House-approved bill, or another version that similarly ignores food stamps, doesn't stand a chance in the Democrat-controlled Senate: "For 50 years... we have had a partnership of those living in the cities who are interested in nutritional programs, whether it's food stamps or school lunch, and those who represented rural areas, which I did in Congress, that came together in a farm bill. It was a winning formula. Now the House Republicans have given up on that. That's a mistake.

"Let's not only grow the food; let's make sure it's distributed fairly across America, particularly so our own people don't go hungry," he concluded. "Separating out these two issues is not in the best interest of our country."

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    Lindsey Boerma is senior video producer for CBSNews.com.

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