January 27

Farm bill deal would scale back cuts to food stamps

The compromise is expected to cut food stamps by about $800 million a year. Republicans were hoping for $4 billion in cuts.

By Mary Clare Jalonick
The Associated Press

WASHINGTON – A House plan to make major cuts to food stamps would be scaled back under a bipartisan agreement on a massive farm bill, a near end to a more than two-year fight that has threatened to hurt rural lawmakers in an election year.

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The compromise was expected to cut food stamps by about $800 million a year, and keep generous subsidies for farmers.

The Associated Press

The measure announced Monday by the House and Senate Agriculture committees preserves food stamp benefits for most Americans who receive them and continues generous subsidies for farmers. The House was expected to vote on the bill Wednesday, with the Senate following shortly after.

The compromise was expected to cut food stamps by about $800 million a year, or around 1 percent. The House in September passed legislation cutting 5 percent from the $80 billion-a-year program. The House bill also would have allowed states to implement broad new work requirements for food stamp recipients. That has been scaled back to a test program in 10 states.

The Democratic-led Senate had twice passed a bill with only $400 million in annual food stamp cuts, and the White House had threatened to veto the House bill. The final food stamp savings are generated by making it more difficult for states to give recipients a minimal amount of heating assistance in order to trigger higher food stamp benefits.

The farm bill released Monday would cost almost $100 billion a year over five years, with a cut of around $2.3 billion a year overall from current spending. Committee aides said they were still waiting for final numbers from the Congressional Budget Office to assess exactly how much the bill would cost.

Republican House leaders said they would support the deal. After wavering for several years, the GOP leaders were seeking to put the long-stalled bill behind them and build on the success of a bipartisan budget passed earlier this month. Leaders in both parties also were hoping to bolster rural candidates in this year's midterm elections.

Still unclear, though, was how Republicans would get the votes they needed to pass the final bill on the House floor. The full House rejected an earlier version of the farm bill in June after conservative Republicans said cuts to food stamps weren't high enough — and that bill had more than two times the cuts than those in the compromise bill announced Monday.

Some of those conservatives were certain to oppose the lower cuts to food stamps, along with many of the farm subsidies the bill offered.

While many liberal Democrats were expected to vote against the legislation, saying the food stamp cuts were too high, Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Okla., chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, and his Senate counterpart, Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., have attempted a balanced bill to attract votes from the more moderate wings of both parties. They have touted the bill's overall savings and the elimination of a $4.5 billion-a-year farm subsidy called direct payments, which are now paid to farmers whether they farm or not.

The bill would continue to heavily subsidize major crops — corn, soybeans, wheat, rice and cotton — while shifting many of those subsidies toward more politically defensible insurance programs. That means farmers would have to incur losses before they received a payout.

While those subsidies may be easier to defend, they may not cost less money. Subsidies for cotton and rice would be higher, and more money would be directed to the national crop insurance program.

(Continued on page 2)

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