Five Farm Bill Flash Points

When the House and Senate conference committee on the farm bill first meets - likely next week - Jerry Hagstrom of The Hagstrom Report notes they'll have several big differences to work out. Beyond the difference between the House and Senate versions of the farm bill on permanent law - Hagstrom says there are five flash points in the bill - including nutrition, crop insurance, the commodity title, dairy and food aid. On nutrition - the obvious difference is the level of cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. The Senate bill cuts four-billion dollars over 10 years while the House bill would cut 39-billion over the same timeframe. Senate conferees are expected to oppose a big cut to the program and House Ag Chair Frank Lucas has said the size of the cut will have to come from House Speaker John Boehner, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and President Obama. Crop insurance is another target for budget savings. The Senate farm bill would reduce crop insurance subsidies for farmers making more than 750-thousand dollars a year. The House bill doesn't call for a premium subsidy reduction. Another crop insurance issue is the conservation compliance provision - which Lucas is adamantly opposed to. Farm groups are divided on the issue. Both chambers eliminated direct payments - so the question on the commodity title will be the structure of the new program. On dairy - the Senate farm bill contains the Dairy Security Act favored by dairy farmers. That same measure was approved by the House Agriculture Committee - but was then amended on the House floor - leaving out a market stabilization program or what dairy processors call supply management.

Lucas will chair the conference committee. He said last week that a series of public meetings may be held on difficult issues - including on the nutrition title and the commodity safety net. The conferees will have to sign the conference committee report requiring a majority of the House and a majority of the Senate and the product would then go to the House and Senate for up or down votes. According to Lucas - there would be an hour of debate in the House and the language would not be subject to amendment. If both chambers can agree to the conference report and the President signs it - Lucas says the process will be complete.

Lucas knows the nutrition title will be a big point of contention - but actually worries more about the commodity title - where payment limits and conservation compliance for crop insurance will be key issues.

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