The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

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January 27, 2014

Congressional committees reach deal on new farm bill

WASHINGTON — House and Senate agriculture leaders reached an agreement Monday on a new farm bill that makes some cuts to the food stamp program and keeps subsidies for farmers.

The House could vote on the proposal as soon as Wednesday.

The plan cuts about $800 million annually from the food stamp program, or about 1 percent, far less than the 5 percent reduction approved by the House in September, but more than the $400 million annual cut the Senate previously had approved.

The Agricultural Act of 2014 contains major reforms, including eliminating the $5 billion annual direct payment program, streamlining and consolidating numerous programs to improve their effectiveness and reduce duplication, and cutting down on program misuse, lawmakers said in a press release.

The bill continues subsidies for major crops — corn, soybeans, wheat, rice and cotton. The legislation shifts many subsidies to insurance programs, which means farmers would have to incur losses before they receive payouts.

“I am proud of our efforts to finish a farm bill conference report with significant savings and reforms,” said Oklahoma Rep. Frank Lucas, chairman of the House Agriculture Committee. “We are putting in place sound policy that is good for farmers, ranchers, consumers and those who have hit difficult times. I appreciate the work of everyone who helped in this process. We never lost sight of the goal, we never wavered in our commitment to enacting a five-year, comprehensive farm bill. I ask my colleagues to join me in supporting its passage.”

The compromise legislation would:

• Repeal the direct payment program and strengthen risk management tools.

• Repeal outdated programs and consolidate duplicative ones, eliminating nearly 100 programs or authorizations.

• Help farmers and ranchers create jobs and provide certainty for the 16 million Americans working in agriculture.

• Strengthen conservation efforts to protect land, water and wildlife for future generations.

• Maintain food assistance for families while addressing fraud and misuse in SNAP.

• Reduce the deficit by billions of dollars in mandatory spending.

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said the legislation is “worthy of the House’s support.”

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., said he would support the bill, while blaming the Senate for not accepting the House’s attempted changes to the food stamp program. Still, he said, the legislation would “extend these important agriculture programs, achieve deficit reduction, and help give many Americans an opportunity to achieve independence and get back to work.”

Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, said the compromise “will reduce the deficit and cut waste and fraud, all while protecting hungry children and families.”

Despite the congressional inertia and the short timeline, there were early signs Monday some lawmakers and groups would work to build opposition.

Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., a longtime proponent of food stamps, said the cuts were too high. He said he would vote against the bill and would encourage his colleagues to do the same.

“They are trying to ram this thing through before anyone has a chance to read it,” he said.

A coalition of powerful meat and poultry groups, generally strong supporters of the legislation, said Monday they would work against the bill after the heads of the agriculture panels did not include language to delay a labeling program that requires retailers to list the country of origin of meat. Meatpackers say it is too costly for the industry and have fought to have the program repealed in the farm bill.

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