Continued from page 1

Rep. Tim Huelskamp, Kansas Republican and one of the tea party conservatives on the agriculture panel, says he is telling constituents that direct payments will have to go.

“Some folks say we want you to defend it to the end of the day, and I say that’s not what’s going to happen,” Mr. Huelskamp said.

Mr. Huelskamp believes there should still be some sort of safety net for farmers when prices drop or crops are destroyed. But he says frustration over government regulation — labor and environmental laws in particular — is the top issue on farm voters’ minds. People understand they will have to take a cut, he says.

No one envisions a farm bill that eliminates subsidies entirely. The compromise Ms. Stabenow and Mr. Lucas reached last year would have cut spending while creating a whole new subsidy to protect farmers when their revenue drops.

As they try to satisfy all sides, lawmakers and the Obama administration also have looked beyond subsidies to find savings. The Obama administration has appealed to the budget-conscious by trying to cut administrative costs at USDA and consolidating rural offices. At the hearing Wednesday, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack asked the senators to “consider two key themes — streamlining and flexibility.”

“There are a lot of land mines, and we just have to see how it plays out,” said Rep. Collin C. Peterson, Minnesota Democrat, who is his party’s ranking member on the House Agriculture Committee. He warns that Congress shouldn’t get too confident about cutting farm programs.

If the agriculture economy crashes, he says, “there isn’t going to be any money to bail anybody out.”