Congressional negotiators reached a deal on a five-year bill Monday that eliminates or caps agriculture subsidies for thousands of farmers and slashes the food stamp program for needy Americans.
The mammoth measure, which took some two years to hash out and endured a collapse of negotiations in 2013, could now be voted on as early as Wednesday in the House of Representatives, the chamber’s Republican leaders said.
The Senate could address the so-called farm bill next week, according to Senate Democrat Debbie Stabenow, chair of the chamber’s Agriculture Committee.
In announcing the deal, Stabenow said it “includes major reforms like eliminating the direct payment subsidy program, streamlining and consolidating other programs, and cracking down on fraud and misuse.”
Elimination of the subsidy program, highly contentious since its rollout in 1996, will mean doing away with most payments that have been made annually to farmers, regardless of whether there is need for the support.
The measure was designed to provide income and price stability in the volatile agriculture market. By 2012, the program was costing $5 billion per year and critics derided it as an unwarranted government intervention.
Even when crop prices were high, the subsidies were paid.
Between 2003 and 2011, according to a government audit, nearly a quarter of the subsidies were paid to farmers who did not cultivate the crop for which the subsidy was calculated.
Less than one percent of farms received grants from 2007 to 2011 even when they were growing no crops, according to a 2012 report by the Government Accountability Office.
In reforming the policy, lawmakers have strengthened a federal insurance system to protect farmers against natural disasters.
House Speaker John Boehner voted against previous versions of the bill, but he gave his stamp of approval to Monday’s compromise.
“The measure will not only save taxpayers approximately $23 billion (over 10 years), it also includes important reforms to both farm and food stamp programs,” he said.
The bill also has a substantial nutrition component, but one of its prime programs — food stamps that assist some 47.7 million Americans — is being cut, according to the compromise.
Food stamps will be revised downward to save some $9 billion over the next decade, according to The New York Times.
That is far less than a Republican plan which passed the House last year that would have slashed $40 billion from the newly announced program, hinting that the compromise bill announced Monday might encounter some resistance amount House conservatives.
Food stamp supplements were among the bill’s major sticking points between lawmakers, with Republicans arguing that the program was riddled with fraud.
[Image via Agence France-Presse]