- Associated Press - Sunday, April 22, 2012

The Senate has begun laying the groundwork for a half-trillion-dollar farm and food bill that would end unconditional subsidies to farmers, but House Republicans’ resolve to cut its biggest component — food stamps — by $13 billion a year dims its prospects of passing Congress.

The current five-year farm bill expires at the end of September, and the Senate Agriculture Committee on Friday released a draft of its plan to redesign safety nets that help farmers weather bad times while achieving some $23 billion in deficit reduction.

The full committee is to vote this week on the plan, which consolidates conservation programs and takes several steps, such as stopping lottery winners from getting assistance, to make the food-stamp program more accountable. Of that $23 billion in savings projected over next 10 years, $4 billion comes from food stamps.

But before getting a bill to the president, lawmakers must satisfy multiple constituents with different agendas — Northern corn growers, Southern cotton farmers, insurance companies, banks, nutrition groups and environmentalists.

Most difficult will be narrowing the gap between the Democratic Senate and House Republicans taking aim at the food-stamp program that comprises some 80 percent of the bill’s spending.

The Congressional Budget Office says that at the current spending pace the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamps, would spend about $400 billion over the five-year life of a farm bill enacted this year. Crop insurance subsidies would average about $9 billion a year, commodity subsidies $6.6 billion and farm conservation programs $6.5 billion.

Last fall, when the congressional supercommittee was making its futile attempt to come up with a long-term deficit reduction plan, Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Debbie Stabenow, Michigan Democrat, and her Republican colleague in the House, Frank D. Lucas of Oklahoma, came up with a plan to cut $23 billion from farm and food aid over the next decade.

That plan is the framework as the Agriculture Committee’s draft of the massive bill, which also includes such areas as energy, forestry, rural development and international food aid.

The Obama administration, in its budget proposal this year, outlined a similar plan, calling for cuts of $32 billion and also eliminating direct payments, a subsidy that farmers collect based on a land’s production history but not connected to crop prices or yield.

But the GOP-led House sees farm and food aid as a prime source for deficit reduction, and the budget of Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, Wisconsin Republican, that cleared the House last month requires almost $180 billion in cuts from farm bill programs over the next decade. That included $134 billion, or an average $13.4 billion a year, from the food-stamp program.

If no deal is reached by September, Congress will need to extend the existing bill.

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

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