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Editorial, 9/30: Fortenberry's independence inspiring

By Journal Star editorial board on September 29, 2013
© JournalStar.com

Rep. Jeff Fortenberry once again has shown himself to be a leader of courage and conviction with his vote against draconian cuts in federal food aid.

Fortenberry was one of only 15 House Republicans to vote against $40 billion in cuts over 10 years to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. The bill to slash SNAP benefits still passed, but reconciliation with the Senate bill is likely to bring reduced cuts. The Senate bill only contains $4.1 billion in cuts.

In this day of lock-step voting expectations, displays of independence are rare. Fortenberry was lobbied hard by the House GOP leadership not to defect but still voted his conscience.

The depth of cuts was a bridge too far for Fortenberry, who had supported $20 billion in cuts when SNAP was part of the federal farm bill. SNAP was removed from the farm bill when tea party Republicans felt they couldn’t support the bill without further food aid cuts.

Local groups also lobbied Fortenberry hard. The Bread for the World blog noted: “Rep. Fortenberry’s ‘no’ vote was the result of years of advocacy … capped by an 11th-hour surge spearheaded by local Bread leaders and allies. Local directors Scott Young at the Food Bank of Lincoln and Beatty Brasch at the Center for People in Need, and their respective staffs, reached out and urged Fortenberry to oppose the bill. … Lincoln Bread leader Kristin Ostrom rallied faith leaders across the state to weigh in as well.”

Those in the trenches know their efforts alone would not be enough to fill the tremendous need in Lincoln and elsewhere. Bread for the World statistics show that only 1 of 24 bags of groceries to the needy comes from charity; 23 are from government aid.

To make up for the SNAP cuts, the $4.1 billion in private food aid each year would need to double.

Tea party leaders say Americans would pick up the slack, but historically that’s not the case. For each of the past 40 years, Americans have given away about 2 percent of GDP. That’s true even after the Bush tax cuts.

Certainly Fortenberry has been on the front lines in trying to reduce waste in the SNAP program. In September 2012, reforms he proposed to reduce fraud and save taxpayers money became part of a USDA audit report.

Fortenberry cited concern over the "increasing vulnerability" of the needy for his recent vote.

"I thought a $20 billion reduction, which was originally proposed in the House Agriculture Committee, reflected the right balance of reform and cost savings while not increasing vulnerability during a very difficult economic time in our country," he said.

First District voters can admire their representative for his reasonable stand as a compassionate conservative.

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