$1 trillion U.S. farm bill to include $9 billion in food stamp cuts

Jan. 27, 2014 at 6:20 PM
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WASHINGTON, Jan. 27 (UPI) -- Congressional negotiators have a deal on a $1 trillion U.S. farm bill stalled in Congress for two years, a key senator said Monday.

Senate Agriculture Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., said while necessary conferees' signatures had yet to be obtained, the House Rules Committee was expected to meet to get the conference report ready for House floor consideration no later than Wednesday, Roll Call reported.

"We do have an agreement with the four of us [negotiators] and we're in the process of getting signatures right now," Stabenow said. "That process is ongoing, so it's a question of just how long it takes to do that.

"I'm confident we will have a majority of the conferees, and you know, we had strong bipartisan support,"

The final obstacle to an agreement -- the dairy programs -- had been solved, Stabenow said, noting the agreement on dairy programs was the final piece of the puzzle, the Washington publication said.

"We haven't slept for a while ... running on caffeine and adrenaline at the moment," she said. "I'm very pleased to say we have brought everyone together. You know, the entire dairy community worked for three years to develop the dairy security act, which was embraced by all parts of agriculture, large and small, and we had the rug pulled out from under us two weeks ago."

Rep. Steve Southerland II, R-Fla., said House GOP conferees were meeting with House Agriculture Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., "putting what we think will be the finishing touches on the bill."

"So, yeah, we think things are coming together," Southerland said.

"I think that if you look in this farm bill ... I think some of the reforms in this farm bill are fantastic, and I think if you change ... the culture in some of these programs, I think financial savings down the road are going to be wonderful to the taxpayers.

"As far as, do you get all you want? Well, you rarely get all you want. But I think there's tremendous progress made with reforms in this farm bill."

The comprehensive five-year omnibus bill is expected to cut about $9 billion from food stamps over 10 years, Politico said.

It is expected to pass the House with bipartisan support and move to the Senate for likely approval before its mid-February recess, the Washington Post said.

"We remain optimistic that we can reach agreement in time to be on the floor next week," Lucas told colleagues during the weekend in a message cited by the Post.

The measure, which deals with all matters under the Agriculture Department, is expected to trim the food stamp program, formally known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, by creating stricter eligibility standards.

The standards would change by tweaking federal heating assistance program rules some states use to determine a person's eligibility for food aid, aides familiar with the negotiations told the Post.

The $9 billion in cuts is a compromise between the Senate's proposed $4 billion cut and the House's nearly $40 billion.

Other areas in the bill range from price support programs to food labeling, catfish inspection and livestock treatment.

Stabenow has noted the bill cuts the deficit and supports 16 million people who depend on agriculture for their jobs, making it one of the largest jobs bills Congress has debated in recent years.

The Agriculture Department last month put pressure on lawmakers to reach a deal, saying if they didn't have a final bill by the end of this month, milk prices would have to rise.

It said the 2008 farm bill expired at the end of September, reverting agriculture programs to 1949 farm legislation that calls for significantly higher milk prices and agriculture subsidies.

The 1949 legislation is known as "permanent law" that all subsequent farms bills have simply amended every five years, the New York Times said.

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