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House passes $956B farm bill on bipartisan vote

Jan. 29, 2014 at 12:24 PM   |   Comments

WASHINGTON, Jan. 29 (UPI) -- The U.S. House of Representatives, on a bipartisan 251-166 vote, passed a sweeping $956 billion farm bill Wednesday.

While a majority of Republicans backed the bill, 63 GOP lawmakers joined 103 Democrats in voting against it, the Hill reported.

Democrats complained about cuts to federal food stamps while Republicans lashed out over the bill's cost and how their party's leadership pushed it through the chamber.

The bill heads for the Senate, where it is expected to pass and President Obama is expected to sign it.

The majority of the bill's spending -- $756 billion -- is for the federal food stamp program -- Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program -- and much of the Democratic opposition is because of the $8 billion cut to it.

The original House proposal would have hacked $39 billion from food stamps while the Senate-passed bill included a $4 billion cut to the program.

"This bill will make hunger worse in America, not better," said Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., a leader in the House Democrats' fight against the SNAP cuts. "If this bill passes, thousands and thousands of low-income Americans will see their already meager food benefit shrink."

The bill would pick up $8.6 billion in savings by requiring households to receive at least $20 per year in home heating assistance before automatically qualifying for food stamps, up from the $1 threshold in place in some states.

Supporters of the eligibility change said it is a minimal adjustment but Democrats said the higher standard was callous when weighed against benefits given to wealthy farmers under the bill.

Rep. Ron Kind, D-Wis., and others said the bill would extend what they characterized as an already generous crop insurance program while ending direct payments to farmers, which made payments to farmers regardless of crop prices and in some cases to farmers who grew nothing.

"Rather than looking at another $8.6 billion in cuts to the nutrition title, on top of previous cuts that have already been had, let's look at some of these subsidy programs," Kind said. "I'm afraid that the bill before us today maintains huge taxpayer subsidies that go to a few but very large agribusinesses, at the expense of our family farmers around the country."

The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office said the bill would save $16.6 billion, not $23 billion as lawmakers touted.

The 10-year deficit reduction will come from ending direct payments to farmers, consolidating dozens of Agriculture Department programs and the $8 billion eliminated from SNAP.

A congressional aide told the Hill the difference in savings was an accounting technicality.

The aide said the CBO used a different baseline than House and Senate Agriculture Committee leaders to account for the savings.

The aide said the CBO counted $6.4 billion in sequestration cuts in its figure, while the House and Senate panel chiefs didn't. If the joint panel leaders were to include those savings, it would come up with the same result as the CBO, the aide said.

© 2014 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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