Fourth District Cong. Tom Cotton (R) says his tough stance calling for farming and immigration reforms is his way of responding to constituent concerns. He also gave few clues to his prospects of challenging Sen. Mark Pryor (D) for the U.S. Senate in 2014.
Appearing on KARK’s Capitol View on Sunday morning, Cotton said splitting the farm bill from its long connection with food stamp funding is the first step in reforming the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) despite many state agricultural interests arguing to keep them united.
“Farmers I talked to are tired of being held hostage to the food stamp program, which is deeply in need of reform because there are so many abuses. There’s so much waste in that program,” Cotton said.
He cited anecdotal instances of abuse, such as people standing in grocery store lines buying steak with food stamps while talking on a new iPhone and driving a new SUV. When pressed that 42,000 households in his Congressional district – roughly 16% – are on food stamps and those household median incomes are around $13,600 annually, Cotton acknowledged there are many who play by the rules.
“That’s where we want to target the aid, but we all know there is some waste and some abuse in that program,” Cotton said.
Cotton had written in an Arkansas Democrat-Gazette op-ed in June that the original farm bill did “too little for Arkansas farmers,” but he agreed that the amount of money coming to Arkansas farmers in the coupled farm bill (with food stamps) and the split farm bill (which passed the House last week), equates to roughly the same amount of money for Arkansas farmers.
“You’re right. You’re roughly speaking about the same amount of money going to Arkansas farmers who benefit from these programs, but you have to compare the cost of the overall bills,” he said.
Cotton thinks the House can make deeper cuts to the SNAP funding than the $20 billion over 10 years proposed in the failed bill a few weeks earlier.
Cotton has called for the U.S. House to reject the Senate’s version of immigration reform. He is pushing for an approach that would divide portions of immigration reform into a package of bills for consideration.
In a Wall Street Journal op-ed this week, Cotton wrote, “If the full House approves such bills, they should be sent directly to the Senate for consideration. They should not be handed to a conference committee so that they can be reconciled with the Senate bill.”
Cotton was asked if this was a “brazen” position for a House freshman to take and if this was what “the founding fathers had in mind” when they constructed bicameral government.
“The House will reject not just the Senate bill, but the Senate approach because I believe the American people reject it. The Senate approach is legalization first and enforcement later – maybe,” Cotton said. “It’s not saying ‘my way or the highway,’ it’s saying these approaches are irreconcilable.”
Cotton said only 12 of the nearly 1,800 contacts he’s received in his office support the Senate immigration bill. He does not see the House bringing a vote on the issue before the August Congressional recess.
He’s worried that without detailed House positions, aspects of the Senate bill could take precedence.
“If we go to conference, I worry that any law that passes could be used as a Trojan horse to force the Senate approach through the House in violation of what the American people want,” Cotton said.
As for his preferences on enforcement before legalization, Cotton says border security must come first. He cited his war experience, which he said always included a physical border for security. He also said that visa overstays and employment verification reform were necessary steps that needed to be addressed.
POSSIBLE SENATE RUN
Asked bluntly if he plans to run for the U.S. Senate in 2014 against incumbent Democrat Sen. Mark Pryor, Cotton responded, “Right now, I’m focused on the work that the people of Arkansas sent me to Washington to do.”
He added, “There’s no time frame [for considering a run], but we’ve got three weeks left until our August recess. That’s a traditional break in the legislative session. I’m focused very much on the work that the people elected me to do.”
A Democratic group has been airing a TV ad against Cotton that claims he’s is interested in his own personal advancement over serving Arkansas in Congress. Republicans have refuted aspects of the ad.
“I was an Army Ranger. I fought in Iraq and Afghanistan. I’ve faced some real bullets, so some metaphorical bullets in politics don’t really bother me that much,” Cotton said. “Frankly, I don’t think Barack Obama and his liberal buddies worry about where I say things – whether it’s on your TV show, whether it’s on the House floor or whether it’s in a diner in Magnolia – they worry about what I say. Making the case against Obamacare, making the case against this immigration bill. And the more they criticize me for it, the more I’m going to say it.”
When asked again point blank if he would run for the U.S. Senate in 2014 – yes, no or maybe – Cotton responded.
“I’m eager to do the work in the U.S. House that the people elected me to do.”
You can watch his full interview below.