Farm bill could hinge on budget talks
"Time is not on our side," he said. Next year's budget situation on farm programs will be "a big mess and it's infinitely better for everyone to get these decisions made now."
Farm groups are aggressively pushing a combination of the farm bill and the fiscal package, seeing the deficit reduction as the last, best vehicle to get the bill done this year.
"I think it's going to be very hard to get a farm bill done unless a decision is made very quickly to be part of a package," said Bob Stallman, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation.
Stallman said he thinks the bill can move very quickly once lawmakers find a compromise on the food stamp issue.
"When political leadership decides they want something done they will craft a path to make it happen," he said. "But that hasn't happened yet."
Food stamps make up roughly 80 percent of the bill's half-trillion dollar cost over five years. Sustained unemployment, rising food prices and expanded eligibility under President Barack Obama's 2009 economic stimulus have doubled the program's cost since 2008, and food stamps now help feed 47 million people.
The proposed House cuts would target practices by many states that critics claim swell the rolls of beneficiaries. They include waiving asset and income eligibility limits for people who get other welfare benefits or signing people up for minimal heating aid so that they can qualify automatically for food stamps, too. The Senate bill also tightens eligibility in some areas but doesn't save as much money.
The House and Senate bills also differ on how subsidies are structured for various crops. Commodity groups for specific crops and lawmakers who represent their constituencies have battled over how those subsidies should work in an environment where there is less money to go around.
This year's farm bill situation is unusual. The last four farm bills — passed in 2008, 2002, 1996 and 1990 — were all passed prior to elections with rural politics driving the equation. This year politics had the opposite effect as food stamps got in the way.
Roger Johnson, president of the National Farmers Union, said the results of the Nov. 6 election should be good news for those who want to see a farm bill passed, since the balance of power stayed the same.
"The outcome removed any sort of political rationale for a delay," Johnson said. "The political argument I think is gone. Not to say it will be easy."
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