WASHINGTON–The U.S. House approved a five-year, nearly US$1 trillion farm bill Wednesday reforming the federal government’s crop subsidy system but cutting food stamps to pare the deficit. The mammoth bill, which has been some three years in the making and endured more than one collapse in negotiations in 2013, enjoyed bipartisan support in passing 251-166. It now heads to the Senate where it could be voted on as early as Friday. It is expected to pass. The White House said Wednesday that President Barack Obama would sign the 959-page bill should it reach his desk. “Overall, this legislation is a positive step forward that invests in rural development, bio-based energy, conservation, and agricultural research and that will provide certainty and stability for families in need, for farming communities, and for our commodity markets,” senior House Democrat Steny Hoyer said. The compromise bill reduces the U.S. deficit by some US$23 billion, far less than what was sought by dozens of House conservatives eager to dramatically slash federal spending. Republican Frank Lucas, chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, said the bill “contributes major savings to deficit reduction, significant reforms to policy, and yet still provides a safety net” for needy Americans as well as for agriculture producers. Food Stamps Cut But many House Democrats were upset over the US$8 billion cut to supplemental food assistance. The federal program that helps more than 47 million Americans will include new anti-fraud measures that shed costs and ensures lottery winners and dead people cannot collect the food stamps.
It slightly reduces benefits for approximately 850,000 low-income households, according to a Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimate. The program was a primary sticking point between Democrats and Republicans in the negotiations.
Conservatives believe the program is marred by fraud and encourages a welfare state, while liberals argue the food stamps are critical for struggling families. “If you vote for this bill, you will have to look them in the eye and tell them to go without food, to endure hunger, because we had to give more handouts to millionaires and billionaires,” warned House Democrat and champion of the poor Rosa DeLauro, according to The Washington Post. The bill spends about US$489 billion on nutritional and agriculture programs from 2014 to 2018, according to the CBO. Approximately 80 percent of that goes to food stamps and 20 percent for agricultural subsidies. The legislation does away with highly controversial direct payments that were being doled out to farmers even if they no longer cultivated their fields or if crop prices rose. The program, begun in 1996, was created as an income-smoothing operation for the volatile farming industry.
But its high cost — about US$5 billion in 2012 alone — made it a prime target for reform, and it was replaced by extensions to a crop insurance program.