WASHINGTON _ Rep. Frank Lucas praised the long-delayed farm bill agreement as “amazing” on Tuesday, as the House pushed it toward possible passage on Wednesday.
Lucas, R-Cheyenne, the chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, told reporters it was “almost a miracle'' that negotiators on the five-year bill reached an agreement, given the political divisions and budget limitations.
After several weeks of negotiations that faltered at times over various elements of the sweeping legislation, bipartisan leaders of the House and Senate Agriculture Committees unveiled their compromise on Monday night.
The House on Tuesday cleared the $1 trillion bill for consideration, and Lucas said he is hoping it will pass on Wednesday. The Senate is likely to take it up soon after the House.
Lucas and Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., the chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, said on a conference call Tuesday that the bill would save roughly $23 billion over the next ten years and reform farm subsidies and the food stamp program. However, the Congressional Budget Office estimated that it would save less than $17 billion over ten years.
The controversial direct cash payments to land owners, many of whom no longer farm, will be eliminated, and taxpayer subsidies will be linked more closely to market prices for crops and weather-related disasters, Lucas said.
Crop insurance, which is heavily subsidized by taxpayers, will become a more important risk-management tool under the new legislation. Stabenow said dozens of programs had been eliminated and consolidated.
“Don't underestimate the magnitude of the reforms,'' Lucas said.
The bill would cut an estimated $8.6 billion from the food stamp program, far lower than the $40 billion in cuts originally approved by the House but more than the $4 billion sought by the Senate.
Much of the reduction will come from preventing states from increasing food stamp payments by linking them to assistance for heating bills.
Some House Democrats charged Tuesday that the food stamp cuts were too deep and would hurt people already struggling to feed their families.
Rep. James McGovern, D-Mass., called the cuts “an attack on poor people” and said an estimated one million people would lose benefits because of the bill.
The National Cattlemen's Beef Association announced its opposition to the bill because it does not repeal Mandatory Country-of-Origin Labeling; that law, the group said, “has already resulted in steep discounts to our producers and caused prejudice against our largest trading partners.”
Stabenow said she was disappointed by the criticism since the bill includes an unprecedented $7 billion in support for ranchers. Lucas said his committee would continue to work on the issue.
Taxpayers for Common Sense urged lawmakers to vote against the bill, saying it would continue to lavish federal money on thriving agribusinesses.
Negotiators dropped a provision authored by Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Muskogee, that would reduce crop insurance premiums for farmers with adjusted gross incomes over $750,000 a year.
According to Taxpayers for Common Sense, some agribusiness could receive $1 million a year in taxpayer money for crop insurance premiums.