NORTH LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Republican Senate hopeful and U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton defended his vote against the Farm Bill as he addressed the state's largest agricultural advocacy group on Tuesday, while U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor accused his rival of turning a "deaf ear" on Arkansas farmers.
Speaking at a daylong candidate forum held by the Arkansas Farm Bureau, Cotton said he didn't believe the nearly $100 billion a year legislation he voted against in January did enough to cut the nation's food stamps program. Cotton was the only member of the state's congressional delegation to vote against the bill.
"That bill was a bad bill for farmers, it was a bad bill for taxpayers, it was a bad bill for Arkansas," Cotton said.
The legislation cuts about $800 million a year from the $80 billion-a-year food stamp program, or around 1 percent. Cotton said he believed the measure should have done more to cut costs, claiming the program doesn't include limits that would prevent millionaires from receiving food stamps.
"You may think I'm joking, but I'm not. A millionaire can receive food stamps in America today," Cotton said.
PolitiFact, a fact-checking website run by the Tampa Bay Times, has disputed similar claims by other GOP figures. The site has called the idea of a millionaire receiving food stamps "ridiculously improbable" since it would have to involve someone with a million-dollar home and no other income living in a state with rules that would allow it.
Food stamp programs include an income test, and asset limits vary by state. The Arkansas Department of Human Services, which administers the food stamp program in the state, has an asset limit but a house doesn't count against that limit, a spokeswoman said. The Arkansas limit is $2,000 per household, or $3,250 if at least one person is disabled or elderly.
When asked by reporters later whether there are a many millionaires without any income, Cotton replied: "There are a lot of people who 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."
Cotton announced last year he was challenging Pryor, a two-term Democrat. Neither faces an opponent in their respective May 20 primaries.
Pryor did not speak to the Farm Bureau in person, but criticized Cotton for his vote in a pre-recorded video message shown during the forum.
"My opponent, Congressman Cotton, turned a deaf ear on farmers and families by allowing the Farm Bill to expire by voting against a comprehensive Farm Bill not once, but twice," Pryor said.
The farm group also heard from candidates for several of the state's top offices. In separate appearance, Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Mike Ross and Republican candidate Asa Hutchinson touted their dueling tax cut plans. Ross has proposed gradually cutting income taxes over time as the state can afford it, while Hutchinson has proposed a $100 million tax cut for middle-class Arkansans in his first year if elected.
"One of my opponents is saying he's going to cut $100 million in taxes and then worry about balancing the budget later," Ross said, a jab at Hutchinson's tax cut plan. "I'm saying we're going to balance the budget and then cut taxes as we can afford it."
Hutchinson defended the proposal, saying the state's surplus shows that it can afford such a reduction.
"The important part of my plan is it is designed to be more competitive in our individual income tax rate, that helps everyone and that is a priority," Hutchinson said.
Both Ross and Hutchinson are former congressmen who face underfunded rivals in their respective primaries. Little Rock businessman Curtis Coleman, who is also seeking the GOP nomination, vowed to oppose any laws restricting farmers' property rights and said he would fight the use of eminent domain for private use.
"For government to take private property from one property owner to give it to another private property owner in my opinion is not eminent domain, it's theft. And I will fight that with all the ability I have as governor," Coleman said.
Lynette Bryant, who is seeking the Democratic nomination, stopped short of offering any specific policy proposals but said she would advocate for the state's farmers.
"I will fight for your needs and I will fight for your wants because I know Mother Nature is not always with us," she said.