LITTLE ROCK — U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton defended the position he took on the farm bill during a speech Tuesday at a candidates’ forum sponsored by the Arkansas Farm Bureau, which opposed Cotton’s position on the issue.
Cotton, R-Dardanelle, is challenging U.S. Sen Mark Pryor’s bid for a third Senate term. Pryor, D-Ark., addressed the Farm Bureau on Tuesday in a pre-recorded message in which he accused Cotton of placing special interests who are funding his campaign above his constituents.
Cotton voted against the farm bill initially but later voted for a version that would have stripped food stamps from the legislation. The version that ultimately passed, which cuts food stamp funding by $8 billion over 10 years, received the support of every member of the Arkansas delegation except Cotton.
Cotton said Tuesday that during the debate he heard from farmers who agreed with him and farmers who did not.
“There were some in both camps, but it did divide the farming community in Arkansas,” he said. “In the end, I thought the bill was a bad deal for Arkansans. Why is that? This farm bill does not deserve the name. It should be called a food stamp bill. It’s 80 percent food stamps.”
Cotton said food stamps provide an important safety net, but the program needs to be reformed.
“There’s still no asset test, which means millionaires can get food stamps,” he said.
The state Democratic Party quickly issued a news release calling that claim “a whopper” and noting that people generally cannot qualify for food stamps if their household income is above 130 percent of the federal poverty level.
In 2011, PolitiFact investigated a statement by Newt Gingrich that millionaires receive food stamps and rated it “Pants on Fire.”
Talking to reporters after his speech, Cotton could not identify a millionaire who has received food stamps, but he said that with no asset test in place, a person with a million dollars in assets but no income could qualify for food stamps.
Asked if he believes there are millionaires who have zero income, Cotton said, “I think there are a lot of people that do a lot of fraudulent schemes against the federal government. The point is, that’s a very simple reform, but because of liberal Democrats like Mark Pryor, we weren’t able to adopt a lot of needed reforms to the food stamp program.”
Pryor said in a video message Tuesday that he worked with the Farm Bureau and nearly all of the Arkansas delegation for passage of a comprehensive farm bill, but Cotton “was more interested in listening to the Washington special interests funding his campaign.”
“My opponent, Congressman Cotton, turned a deaf ear on farmers and families … when he voted against a comprehensive farm bill not once but twice,” Pryor said.
Cotton took a number of digs at Pryor in his speech, saying that unlike Pryor he has not voted with President Barack Obama 95 percent of the time.
“Arkansas can’t afford to have a back-bench senator, someone who goes along to get along or votes the party line. Arkansas needs a senator who’s off the sidelines and in the game, defending Arkansas’ interests, defending rural Arkansas and our way of life,” Cotton said.
Pryor’s campaign said later that the National Journal has ranked Pryor as one of the 60 most conservative senators every year since he took office. The campaign said an estimate by CQ Roll Call that Pryor voted with Obama 95 percent of the time is flawed because it is based on only 38 percent of Pryor’s votes and gives votes on non-controversial matters the same weight as votes on controversial matters.
“Arkansans know Mark has been a champion for our state’s rural interests, standing up to President Obama on burdensome EPA regulations, gun control and the Keystone Pipeline,” said Jeff Weaver, Pryor’s campaign manager.
The general election is Nov. 4.