Fifteen members of the U.S. House and Senate or their spouses benefited from federal farm subsidies last year, underscoring a personal stake for some lawmakers in a congressional debate that resumes this week over spending on agriculture programs.
Representative Stephen Fincher, a Tennessee Republican and member of the House Agriculture Committee that has approved a rewrite of farm programs, was the biggest recipient of the subsidies last year, according to an analysis by the Environmental Working Group, a group that seeks lower farm subsidies. Fincher and his wife, Lynn, own 50 percent of a farm and received $70,574 in direct farm subsidies last year, the group said.
The second biggest recipient was Representative Doug LaMalfa, a California Republican and agriculture panel member who, along with his wife, Jill, is part owner of a farm that received direct payments of $62,857.
“There are many issues before congress that correlate with members’ personal lives; doctors vote on healthcare reform, farmers vote on the farm bill and teachers vote on education funding,” said Mark Spannagel, chief of staff to LaMalfa, in an e-mail. LaMalfa has advocated ending the farm payment system and the bill the house is working on would do so, he said.
Other lawmakers who benefited included Senator Charles Grassley, an Iowa Republican and Senator Orrin Hatch, a Utah Republican, the EWG said.
Both chambers this month will debate competing versions of a five-year measure reauthorizing $500 million in U.S. Department of Agriculture programs, with the Senate this week resuming work on its legislation. Crop subsidies benefiting buyers such as Archer-Daniels-Midland Co. (ADM:US) and food stamps subsidizing purchases at Supervalu Inc. (SVU:US) are prime targets for lawmakers seeking to trim the U.S. budget deficit.
The House may consider its measure later this month.
Of the 15 lawmakers, only two -- Senator Jon Tester of Montana and Senator Michael Bennet of Colorado -- are Democrats. Eight of them sit on the agriculture committees in Congress.
Among other recipients, Representative David Valadao, a California Republican, reaped $28,077 last year through direct farm payments and subsidies from a milk program, the environmental group estimated. Valadao and his wife own a portion of two dairy farms.
Tester and his wife received $21,281 in direct payments and conservation reserve program payments last year. The two jointly own T-Bone Farms.
Among other lawmakers:
Representative Robert Aderholt, an Alabama Republican, benefited indirectly because of his wife’s part ownership of a farm, through which she received $4,559 in subsidies in 2012, the EWG estimated.
Representative Kristi Noem, a South Dakota Republican, received $1,400 in direct payments last year, based on her part ownership of Racota Valley Ranch. Noem is on the House Agriculture Committee.
Representative Vicky Hartzler, a Missouri Republican and agriculture panel member, is beneficiary of a trust that received $1,383 in direct payments and benefits from a conservation reserve fund last year, the group said. The trust owns 98 percent of Hartzler Farms.
Representative Frank Lucas, an Oklahoma Republican, benefited indirectly through payments to his wife, Lynda, who received $14,584 in disaster payments last year, the group found. He sits on the House Agriculture Committee.
Vicky Sheldon Kline, the wife of Representative John Kline, a Minnesota Republican, received $605 in conservation reserve payments last year, the EWG said. She is 20 percent owner of Sheldon Family Farms LP.
Representative Randy Neugebauer, a Texas Republican and member of the agriculture committee, received a 2012 direct payment of $339.
Representative Marlin Stutzman, an Indiana Republican, received a direct farm payment of $6,654 last year, the group said.
Representative Mac Thornberry, a Texas Republican and one-third owner of Thornberry Brothers farm, received $9,181 in 2012 in direct and disaster aid payments.
Bennet’s wife, Susan Daggett, received $2,107 in agriculture subsidies last year based on her partial ownership of two farms. Bennet, of Colorado, is a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee.
Grassley, another Senate Agriculture Committee lawmaker, received $9,935 in direct and conservation reserve payments last year, the group said.
Hatch’s wife, Elaine, received $10,506 in direct and conservation reserve payments last year to a farm in which she owns a share, the group estimated.
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