With time running out for a new U.S. farm law, agriculture leaders in the House of Representatives insisted on July 5 on keeping traditional farm subsidies that the Senate wants to kill and called for big cuts in food stamps for the poor.
The bill could face an uphill battle in the House because of its busy agenda and the pressure to find even bigger cuts. As well, steep cuts in food stamps would face stiff opposition when it comes time to reconcile the bill with the Senate's version.
The House Agriculture Committee was scheduled to vote on the package next Wednesday. After that, the House has 18 days available for floor debate before the 2008 law expires on Sept 30. Analysts see low odds for enactment of a new law on time.
Congress could pass a farm bill in its lame-duck session after the November election or early next year, two points when deficit reduction will be a priority and steeper spending cuts would be possible.
In their bill, House Agriculture Committee leaders would increase, by up to 40 percent, target prices that trigger payments to grain and oilseeds farmers. They would give growers the choice of two farm programs -- traditional supports or a revenue guarantee that is the heart of the Senate-passed farm bill.
"This bill is an investment in production agriculture and rural America," said committee chairman Frank Lucas, an Oklahoma Republican. The Democratic leader on the committee, Collin Peterson of Minnesota, sponsored the bill with Lucas.
Peterson said he would have preferred to avoid the food stamp cuts but "we need to keep this farm bill moving forward."
Higher target prices would resolve a complaint by rice and peanut growers in the U.S. South that the Senate's revenue program is unfairly skewed toward corn and soybean growers in the Midwest. Some analysts said support rates sought by rice and peanut growers were unduly high.
Overall, the bill would cut Agriculture Department spending by $35 billion over 10 years, or $12 billion more than the Senate. Almost all the additional cuts come from food stamps.
The Environmental Working Group slammed the House bill as expanding farm subsidies rather than reforming them.
The Senate farm bill would eliminate traditional subsidies such as target prices and instead compensate growers when revenue from a crop is 11-21 percent below average.
The House bill's revenue plan would pay growers when revenue is from 15-25 percent below average. In either bill, crop insurance would cover deeper losses.
A House committee aide said the Senate approach is too generous and in some cases could guarantee a profit to a grower.