WASHINGTON Dec 19 The new U.S. farm bill is
likely to cut the food stamp program by $8 billion over a
decade, a key Democratic senator said on Thursday, an amount
that is a fraction of the cuts demanded by many Republican
While conservatives want stricter eligibility rules that
would disqualify up to 4 million recipients and save $40 billion
over 10 years, Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin, a Democrat, said the
expected $8 billion in savings would be generated by closing a
loophole on utility costs.
The four lead negotiators on the farm bill have said they
intend to unveil a framework for a compromise bill in early
January. Under that timetable, the Senate and House of
Representatives might enact the bill within a couple of weeks.
Food stamps are the paramount issue for the farm bill. The
House proposed the largest cuts in a generation, while the
Senate voted for $4.5 billion in cuts. The bill also would
expand the federally subsidized crop insurance system by up to
10 percent and could boost crop support rates.
"From everything I've seen, we are now within a few items of
having this agreed to," Harkin said during a teleconference.
Harkin is one of the 41 members of the select committee
assigned to reconcile the House and Senate bills.
On food stamps, Harkin said, the lead negotiators could
carve out savings by setting a higher threshold of government
assistance to pay utility bills, a program that can trigger food
Harkin was one of the first lawmakers to publicly make
reference to the likely size of cuts, although the $8 billion
figure has circulated recently among farm lobbyists and activist
Aides to Senate Agriculture chairwoman Debbie Stabenow and
House Agriculture chairman Frank Lucas were not immediately
available for comment.
Activists said they wanted to know if negotiators agreed to
change eligibility rules, a goal of Republicans, in exchange for
the relatively small cuts, which might attract Democrats to vote
for the bill.
A Republican aide has said that tighter work requirements
were imperative if spending cuts were $10 billion or less.
"Nobody seems to have bill language," said Ellen Vollinger
of the Food Research and Action Center.
Without a clear description of the bill, she said, leaders
cannot gauge if their package is popular enough to win.
Two environmental activists said January is the
make-or-break month for the farm bill, which is already 14
months overdue. If a bill is not passed next month, said Scott
Faber of the Environmental Working Group, "we'll be looking at a
two-year extension" of the now-expired 2008 law.