- The Washington Times - Monday, January 27, 2014

House and Senate negotiators said Monday they’ve finally reached an agreement on the long-delayed farm bill, signing a deal that would save $8 billion in the food stamp program and cut $19 billion from farm subsidies — though it preserves both programs.

The negotiators were gathering signatures on the deal and House GOP leaders said they’ll put it up for a vote on Wednesday. If it passes, the bill will go to the Senate for final action.

“We are in good shape. I’m optimistic we’ve got a bill that makes sense for farmers and ranchers and consumers and families that need help and protects our land and water and our wildlife and we’re in good shape,” Sen. Debbie Stabenow, Michigan Democrat and one of the lead negotiators, told reporters Monday night.


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House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Virginia Republican, said the GOP won what concessions it could.

“Despite the Senate’s unwillingness to challenge the status quo and include all of the critical reforms to important programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the finalized farm bill will include a new initiative that allows states to implement work requirements for able-bodied adults as well as initiatives to help move individuals from dependence to self-sufficiency and independence,” Mr. Cantor said.

A bill is long-overdue, and the government has been operating on stopgap farm supports for some time. Some political analysts said the lack of a farm bill cost the GOP several Senate seats it could otherwise have won in 2012.

The new five-year deal ends direct payments to farmers and makes cuts to food stamps without removing anyone from the program, the negotiators said in a summary. They hadn’t released the text of the actual deal as of Monday evening.

The bill will reduce the deficit by about $23 billion, according to preliminary 10-year Congressional Budget Office scores provided to The Washington Times by a congressional aide. It cuts $19 billion from farm subsidy programs, saves $6 billion by increasing efficiency in conservation programs and saves $8 billion by reforming food stamps. The bill spends an additional $10 billion on risk management and job creation and training.

Conservative House Republicans had objected to earlier versions of the bill, and leaders had to resort to parliamentary tactics to even get the legislation to the point where they could negotiate with Senate Democrats.

On Monday night, Mrs. Stabenow said she is “very optimistic” the bill will pass both chambers.

The meat and poultry industries, however, came out against the deal on Monday before it was officially filed. The proposal leaves in place the requirement that all meat and fruit be labeled with its country of origin, which the industries say could lead to retaliatory tariffs from Canada and Mexico.

“This retaliation will be crippling to our industries and will threaten the long-term relationship with two of our most important export markets,” said a letter sent to farm bill negotiators from several meat organizations on Monday. “[Country-of-origin labeling] is a broken program that has only added costs to our industries without any measurable benefit for America’s consumers and livestock producers.”

Cuts to food stamps were a key area of disagreement between Democrats and Republicans during negotiations. While Republicans called for $40 billion to be cut from the food assistance program, Democrats only wanted $4 billion in proposed cuts in the Senate-passed version of the bill. The final version will end food stamp benefits for lottery winners and make other reforms to the program, without taking the benefits away from anyone, the release said.

The bill ends abuse by some states that allowed for some families to receive increased benefits. People who receive any government aid to help with heating costs get more food stamps, so states have started giving out nominal fuel benefits — as little as $1 — to increase food stamp benefits for families. The deal seeks to close this loophole.

The bill invests in pilot programs to encourage job training so those who receive benefits can get jobs and not have to rely on government aid.