(Adds CBO estimates of cost)
By Eric Beech
WASHINGTON Jan 28 Leaders of the House and
Senate agriculture committees are optimistic that the
long-overdue U.S. farm bill will pass, although the House of
Representatives vote set for Wednesday could be the more
House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas said on a
conference call with reporters on Tuesday that there are a
number of House members - both liberal and conservative - who
are opposed to sprawling legislation unveiled on Monday by
"I've always known that the folks at both ends of the
spectrum would not support us," said Lucas, an Oklahoma
Republican. "It's the coalition of the folks in the middle who
want to get things done ... who will pass this bill."
"If it was easy, it wouldn't be the farm bill," he added.
Lucas said liberal members objected to cuts of about 1
percent a year in funding for the Supplemental Nutrition
Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly known as food stamps, which
provides assistance for low-income Americans to buy food.
The cut was double what was proposed in the farm bill passed
last year by the Democratic-led Senate.
At the same time, many conservatives thought the savings in
the overall bill, an estimated $23 billion to $24 billion
compared with current funding, wasn't enough.
Separately, a report by the Congressional Budget Office on
Tuesday estimated that farm bill savings would total $16.6
billion over the 10 years starting in 2014 - less than lawmakers
Conservative pressure groups Heritage Action and Club for
Growth urged a "no" vote on the bill on Tuesday and said they
would include the results in their scorecards of members' voting
records for 2014.
House members on Tuesday took a procedural vote that clears
the way for a farm bill debate and final vote on Wednesday.
Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow
sounded more confident about the vote in the Democrat-run
Senate, which could come as early as next week. There is a
"strong bipartisan coalition" supporting the bill, she said.
Both Lucas and Stabenow said they had "every indication"
from the White House that President Barack Obama would sign the
KEEPING MEAT "COOL"
Monday's agreement on the legislation came after lawmakers
spent months ironing out differences over food stamps, crop
insurance, farm subsidies and other issues contained in earlier
House and Senate legislation.
Although farm bills are written every five years, the CBO
considered the 10-year costs of the legislation, which it said
would total $956 billion. Of that, $756 billion could be for
nutrition programs including SNAP.
Much of the modest savings identified by the CBO would come
from an end to so-called direct payment subsidies, which for
years have been made to farmers and landowners regardless of
Those payments would disappear from 2015, saving some $4.5
billion a year. But the savings are largely offset by spending
on various forms of crop insurance coverage.
Despite last-minute lobbying from the meat industry,
so-called country of origin labeling (COOL) remained in the
bill. The provision requires meat to be labeled as to where
animals are born, grown and processed.
COOL backers, including consumer groups and ranchers, say
consumers have a right to know where their meat originates. U.S.
meatpackers say the law imposes unnecessary costs on the
industry and violates free trade provisions.
"The votes were not there" in either the House or Senate to
repeal COOL, Stabenow said.
Lucas said removing the labeling law could have endangered
agreement on the full bill.
Another contentious issue put to rest on Monday was an
amendment from Republican Representative Steve King of Iowa that
was intended to block a California law requiring that all eggs
sold in the state come from chickens kept in non-confining
The King amendment passed in the House, but Stabenow said it
was dropped from the final bill in light of "overwhelming
opposition" among the House-Senate negotiators.
Animal welfare advocates, state legislators and others had
decried the amendment.
King said California violated the interstate commerce clause
of the Constitution. Opponents said it could have broader
consequences beyond California and invalidate hundreds of state
laws on animal protection and food safety.
U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in November that
the amendment "would create legal challenges and confusion in
Several large U.S. farm groups urged swift passage of the
"This bill provides funding for important programs in
conservation, research and trade that help keep America's wheat
industry productive and competitive on a global scale," said
Bing Von Bergen, a wheat farmer from Moccasin, Montana, who is
president of the National Association of Wheat Growers.
(Reporting by Eric Beech; Editing by Ros Krasny, Jan Paschal
and Leslie Adler)