U.S. congressional negotiators reach deal on Farm Bill

Washington | Reuters — U.S. congressional negotiators have reached a bipartisan agreement on the long-overdue Farm Bill, and a vote on the legislation could come soon, Senator Debbie Stabenow said Monday.

“We’ve got a bill that makes sense, works for farmers and ranchers and consumers and families that need help, and protects our land and water and our wildlife,” Stabenow, chair of the Senate agriculture committee, told Reuters.

The Michigan Democrat said she was optimistic the bill would pass both chambers of Congress.

The agreement on a new five-year bill came after lawmakers spent weeks ironing out differences over food stamps, dairy price supports and other issues contained in earlier House and Senate legislation.

The bill is likely to be brought up for a vote in the House of Representatives “as early as this week,” according to a statement from Stabenow.

The House of Representatives will likely take action before its Republican leadership leaves town late on Wednesday for a three-day policy retreat.

A vote in the Senate could come as early as next week, Stabenow said. If both chambers pass the bill, it would go to President Barack Obama for his signature.

The White House last year threatened to veto any bill that contained deep cuts, advocated by House Republicans, to the supplemental nutrition assistance program, commonly known as food stamps.

Congressional aides have said that the bipartisan agreement would include about $9 billion in cuts over a decade, mostly by closing a loophole, well below the $40 billion advocated by the House, which would have been the largest cuts in a generation (all figures US$).

Food stamp savings “are reached without removing anyone” from the program, according to a statement from the offices of the four major farm bill negotiators.

Stabenow lauded the end of so-called direct payment subsidies, which for years have been paid out to farmers every year regardless of whether or not there is a need for support.

“We started at the beginning saying we were going to do away with direct payments, and save billions and instead put it into risk management to support farmers with crop insurance and disaster assistance. We’ve done that,” Stabenow told Reuters.

— Reporting for Reuters by Eric Beech; additional reporting for Reuters by David Lawder.

Related story:
Stopgap farm bill passes U.S. House, averts ‘dairy cliff,’ Dec. 14, 2013

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