WASHINGTON Nov 21 Time is quickly running out
to write a new $500 billion U.S. farm policy this year and one
of the biggest problems facing the four key negotiators on the
project is how much to cut spending on food stamps for the poor.
Without an agreement by the end of this week it may be
impossible to enact a new farm law this year. Congress is more
than a year behind schedule in replacing the now-expired 2008
law; it adjourns for the year in mid-December.
The make-or-break issue for negotiators continues to be the
size of cuts in food stamps.
The Republican-controlled House of Representatives proposed
$39 billion in savings over a decade by tightening eligibility
rules. That is nearly 10 times the savings backed by the
"We talked about it some," Colin Peterson, the top Democrat
on the House Agriculture Committee, told reporters as the "big
four" negotiators - the leaders of the Senate and House
Agriculture committees - took a midday break.
There are disputes over crop and dairy subsidies as well.
The Senate says the House would set target prices so high they
would override the marketplace and the House says the new
revenue protection system supported by the Senate is skewed
toward the corn and soybean growers in the Midwest while
disadvantaging those who grow wheat, rice and peanuts.
"The commodity title and SNAP (food stamps) are the two
issues," said Peterson.
House Agriculture Chairman Frank Lucas brushed past
reporters, responding only, "Having fun, having fun" when asked
about progress. Late Wednesday, Lucas and the other negotiators
said talks were moving in the right direction.
Peterson said the new bill would not repeal a U.S. law that
requires packages of beef, pork, lamb and poultry to carry a
label listing the country where the animals were born, raised
Canada and Mexico won a World Trade Organization decision
against the first set of U.S. rules on "country of origin"
labeling for meat. They are now challenging the current set,
unveiled earlier this year.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor spearheaded the plan for
sweeping change to food stamps, formally named the Supplemental
Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). With nearly one in seven
Americans currently receiving aid, Cantor said the program was
an unaffordable burden on middle-class Americans.
Democrats voted en bloc against the Republican cuts and the
White House has threatened to veto a farm bill that contains
On Nov. 1 SNAP recipients saw a $5 billion cut in benefits,
or roughly 7 percent per person, when part of the 2009 economic
stimulus package expired.
The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a think tank,
said this week that SNAP enrollment rose because of the 2008-09
recession and high jobless rates.
It said food stamp costs are certain to fall during 2014 and
warned that additional large cuts "would make life harder for
tens of millions of Americans."