Is the Farm Bill next for Congress?

Anne Riordan on the bean cultivator. Photo: Amy Martin.

Anne Riordan on the bean cultivator. Photo: Amy Martin.

Following last night's vote to end the federal government's shutdown and extend the nation's debt limit until next February, there's some optimism that a new Farm Bill – twice delayed in the last year – could soon be passed.

As North Country Congressman Bill Owens pointed out in his phone press conference last night, earlier this week the House appointed its neogitators to the conference committee to resolve the differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill. "I think that's a real good sign," said Owens.

There's optimism in the mainstream agriculture community. American Farm Bureau Federation President Bob Stallman said in a letter to the leaders of the conference committee that he is hopeful Congress can finalize a complete five-year package that includes both the agriculture and the nutrition portions of the bill. According to Farm Futures magazine:

"Over the last two years, leadership of both Ag Committees have demonstrated their ability to forge bipartisan compromise to achieve a new five-year farm bill that meets farmers' and ranchers' needs while also contributing significant savings to reduce our federal deficit," Stallman said. "We only see these savings if Congress gets the bill done," he added.

There are some differences between the House and Senate versions of the farm bill on issues like conservation programs and rice and peanut subsidies. But the big showdown will be, as it's been for more than a year, over funding for food stamps, now called the SNAP program. According to Reuters:

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia spearheaded the Republican drive to tighten eligibility rules for food stamps, ending benefits to nearly 4 million people in 2014, and save $39 billion over 10 years. His targeted cuts are nearly 10 times the amount proposed by the Democrat-run Senate, which focused on closing loopholes on utility costs.

The Republican-controlled House defeated its initial version of the farm bill, with $20 billion in food stamp cuts, because the cuts were too small to satisfy Tea Party-influenced conservatives. Democrats voted solidly against the cuts.

Stay tuned.



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