WASHINGTON — Negotiators in the Senate and House of Representatives will convene today to begin resolving differences in a long-delayed farm bill.
The 41-member panel must bridge a huge divide in the five-year, $500 billion reauthorization bill’s most contentious issue: cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, called food stamps.
The Republican-controlled House passed a bill that would cut food stamps by $39 billion out of a projected $800 billion over 10 years. The House SNAP provision would require able-bodied adults without children to work or volunteer for 20 hours a week to receive federal assistance.
The Democratic-held Senate’s farm bill also would cut food stamps, but by $4.5 billion over a decade, but wouldn’t add work requirements.
“I hope they can find a way to thread the needle,” said Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., one of the conferees. “I hope we can figure it out, because there’s too much riding on passing the farm bill to allow the nutrition title to derail it.”
The differences over food stamps could jeopardize a bill that sets farm policy and covers conservation programs, insurance and farm subsidy programs. There are lesser disputes over a measure to lower crop insurance subsidies to farmers with gross adjusted incomes over $750,000 a year.
The Senate bill also would require farmers who receive crop insurance to meet certain environmental standards. The House bill does not.
It’s been a tough slog for the farm bill, which was authorized in 2008 and expired last year. Congress extended it through September, hoping to buy more time to reach a deal.
More than anything else, the talks face a division over how to cut food stamps.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, appointed Rep. Steve Southerland, R-Fla., to the conference committee. Southerland, who isn’t a member of the House Agriculture Committee, is a driving force behind the work provision.
“There have been people who have not been allowed to be initiated to the beauty of work,” Southerland said. “I don’t know where the happy medium is, because obviously there are differences between the two bills. ”
Several Democratic lawmakers say they aren’t in a compromising mood. They said the House cuts would harm needy Americans.
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