Rep. Cramer's opponents use Bible verses to debate food stamp cuts, look toward 2014 election
North Dakota Democrats are denouncing Republican U.S. Rep. Kevin Cramer's recent vote to reduce spending on the food stamp program and using the controversy to spur recruiting of a candidate to run against him in 2014. Two Grand Forks legislators appear to be on the short list.
Democrats in the state and beyond also have seized on a pair of dueling Bible verses cited on Cramer's official Facebook page, one from Matthew offered by a constituent -- "I was hungry and you fed me" -- and the other, from 2 Thessalonians, offered as a counter by the congressman: "If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat."
"A lot of people were looking at the (2014) race even before this," said Chad Oban, executive director of the state Democratic-NPL Party, but the dustup over food stamp funding has energized people.
"It's another example of Kevin Cramer being out of touch," Oban said.
"The House Republican strategy that Cramer helped lead, splitting the nutrition part from the Farm Bill, certainly makes it a lot more difficult to see how we're going to get a comprehensive Farm Bill passed," he said.
In a telephone interview Wednesday, Cramer said he voted for "very modest reforms in policy" regarding food stamps, and he disputed characterizing them as cuts. "We are talking about expected savings of 5 percent in a program that grows 20 percent a year," he said.
"This is a program that ought to be declining as our economy grows, not the other way around," Cramer said. "You could be a lottery winner -- and we know some are -- and still get food stamps."
He said the reforms are aimed at able-bodied adults 18-50, "not the disabled, not children, not seniors."
But Oban said that in the Senate, Republican John Hoeven and Democrat Heidi Heitkamp "worked together" and helped shape a bill that would reduce funding for food stamps, or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), by a tenth of what the House-passed bill would do.
"To suggest these cuts won't hurt people is ludicrous," he said.
State Sen. Mac Schneider and Rep. Corey Mock, Democrats representing Grand Forks, "have been approached by a number of people" about running for Cramer's U.S. House seat next year, Oban said.
Other potential candidates whose names are mentioned include Sen. George B. Sinner of Fargo, Jasper Schneider, the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development director for North Dakota, and former legislator April Fairfield, who represented rural Stutsman County but now lives in Bismarck.
Mac Schneider said Wednesday that Cramer "certainly made himself vulnerable" by "hurting the cause" for passage of a comprehensive Farm Bill, but "I don't think it's the right time for me" to run for Congress.
"I know we're going to field a good candidate," he said. "You never say never, but for a lot of personal reasons I just don't think it would be realistic."
He said Mock, Sinner or his cousin Jasper Schneider "would be very qualified" to take on Cramer.
Jasper Schneider said his federal position limits how engaged he can be in political discussions. "Certainly people have talked to me about it and encouraged me," he said. "Those are discussions I'll have with my wife and kids. I do see the importance of a Farm Bill to this state and to the country, and I'm still optimistic we'll get one at some point."
Mock said, "It's something I've given some thought to. When people put it on your radar you ought to give it some consideration."
North Dakota "has one voice" in the U.S. House, he said, "and the person we send there needs to decide issues like the Farm Bill in the best interests of farmers and families."
'How dare you?'
Cramer's vote for the more extensive reductions in food stamp funding drew criticism from Kevin Tengesdal of Bismarck, who posted the verse from Matthew (Matthew 25:34-36).
The Northdecoder.com blog posted a screen-grab of the two verses, which drew a flurry of harsh comments to Cramer's House page. "You are a bad person," one of the more restrained comments read, while another asked, "How dare you (Cramer) use the Bible to starve children?"
Cramer decried what he called "the lack of honesty and accountability and manners" in some of the comments, "but I don't worry a lot about it. When you put yourself out as a public personality, it's part of the deal."
Cramer had defended his Farm Bill/food stamps vote in a Sept. 20 op-ed column published in state newspapers, citing "news reports of young surfers in California who use food stamps to maintain a work-free lifestyle."
He said the bill passed by the House "requires President Obama to finally enforce the bipartisan 1996 welfare reforms to food stamps. The House bill "doesn't change income requirements," Cramer said. "It simply requires people to actually meet them in order to qualify."
Such reforms would "save a modest 5.1 percent over a 10-year period in a program that has doubled in spending since Barack Obama became president," he wrote.
Bob Valeu, chairman of the North Dakota Democratic-NPL Party, responded with an op-ed of his own the next day.
"SNAP is the most successful anti-hunger and anti-poverty program in U.S. history," Valeu wrote. "Up until now, SNAP has enjoyed strong bipartisan support and has always been included in each Farm Bill because it successfully ties urban interests with rural interests.
"All that changed when Cramer and his extremist ilk were elected to the U.S. House last year."
Cramer said in the interview, however, that the House bill "actually put more resources toward food banks, Meals on Wheels programs" and other local efforts to feed the hungry, and he challenged faith groups and nonprofits to step up.
"The Democrats -- their constituency is government," he said, "and they love growing it."
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