Take Two for May 15, 2013

Senate approves 5-year farm bill while House readies its own

Kathy Lohr/NPR

Georgia farmer Donald Chase says the Senate's proposed farm bill favors farmers in the Midwest and leaves Southern farmers without a safety net.

Between immigration and gun control, Congress has had plenty to keep busy with. But there are plenty of other contentious issues to address, including the farm bill. 

Yesterday, the Senate Agriculture Commission approved a five-year farm bill which would cost almost $100 billion annually. Today, the House Agriculture Committee is set to consider its own version. This legislation could have big implications for California farmers.

Representative Jeff Denham of Turlock, one of the six Californians on the House committee, joins the show with more. 

Comparing Senate and House Farm Bills: 

A look at some similarities and differences between the Senate and House versions of the legislation:

OVERALL COST: Both five-year bills would cost almost $100 billion annually, with almost $80 billion of that annual total going to domestic food aid. The Senate bill would save about $2.4 billion yearly from current spending, and the House bill would save almost $4 billion, including about $600 million saved in each bill due to across-the-board spending cuts that kicked in earlier this year.

FOOD STAMPS: Food stamps, now known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, have for decades been part of the farm bill in an effort to garner urban lawmakers' votes for rural programs. The Senate farm bill would cut about $400 million from the $80 billion annual total by targeting states that give people who don't have heating bills very small amounts of heating assistance so they can automatically qualify for higher food stamp benefits. The House bill would cut $2 billion yearly by making similar changes and eliminating "broad-based categorical eligibility," or automatic food stamp benefits when people are signed up for certain other programs.

DIRECT PAYMENTS: Direct payments, which cost the government around $5 billion annually, would be phased out in both bills, with the savings split between other subsidy programs and deficit reduction. Those subsidies have been controversial because they are paid out every year regardless of crop prices or crop yield. The Senate bill would eliminate the program immediately, while the House bill would phase it out over the next two years for cotton farmers who rely on the program.

CROP INSURANCE: Both bills would increase subsidies for federally subsidized crop insurance and create a new crop insurance program that covers smaller revenue losses on planted crops. This revenue protection program favors Midwestern corn and soybean farmers and would be more generous in the Senate bill.

PRICE PROTECTION: Both bills would raise "target prices" for some crops. Certain subsidies kick in if prices drop to those targets, meaning farmers will only receive them if prices are low. While many of these programs haven't been used for the last several years because crop prices have been at unprecedented highs, these subsidies exist as a safety net. Both the House and Senate bills would raise target prices for rice and peanuts, since those also often depend on direct payments that would be eliminated. The House bill would raise those target prices higher than the Senate bill would, making it easier for the subsidies to kick in.

FOOD AID: Neither bill includes an Obama administration proposal to shift the way food aid is sent abroad. Much of the food aid program now includes U.S.-grown food overseas, but the Obama budget last month proposed shifting the aid to more flexible accounts, which would allow cash purchases abroad or from U.S. farmers, saying such a move would be more efficient. Both House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., and Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., have sided withfarm groups against the proposal.

With contributions by the Associated Press. 


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