Arkansas Senate candidate Rep. Tom Cotton (R), who is challenging Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.), defended his vote against an agriculture and nutrition assistance bill by characterizing food stamp recipients as addicts.
Cotton made his comments about food stamps during a July 8 tele-town hall, in audio sent to The Huffington Post.
"I don’t think that we should be using farmers as a way to pack more welfare spending into Barack Obama’s government," Cotton said. "Nor should we have a food stamp program that isn’t reformed, that doesn’t have job training and work requirements, that doesn't have drug testing requirements, so we can get people who are addicted the help they need. Or make sure that long-term addicts or recidivists are not abusing taxpayer dollars."
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, more colloquially referred to as the food stamp program, serves 1 in 7 Americans, or 46 million. Congress cut food stamp spending by about 1 percent in a bipartisan compromise in order to pass the agriculture legislation. Republicans wanted to cut a larger chunk.
A hallmark of Republican opposition to food stamps and welfare has been the suspicion that some beneficiaries are addicted to drugs at radically higher rates than the rest of the population. In 2013, conservative House Republicans unsuccessfully tried to take food stamps out of the farm bill. They also attempted to empower states be able to screen food stamp applicants for evidence of drug abuse. Lawmakers stripped the tests from the final version of the measure.
Cotton was the only member of Arkansas' all-GOP House delegation to vote against the agricultural spending bill. He has variously justified his vote as one motivated by a desire for larger cuts, a belief that the program "has resulted in long-term dependency" and an impression that "millionaires can get food stamps."
He has also claimed the food stamp program is "riddled with fraud and abuse," though the benefits are estimated to have a fraud rate of just 1 percent.
Cotton's campaign did not respond to a request for comment about his remarks.
A U.S. Department of Agriculture report found that Arkansas ranked first among states in the number of residents who suffer from “very low food security."
HuffPost Pollster, which combines all publicly available polling data, has Pryor leading Cotton by roughly four percentage points.
Clarification: A pervious version of this story inadvertently omitted part of Cotton's remarks about including drug tests in the food stamp program.