The Free Press, Mankato, MN

State, national news

October 28, 2013

Congress eyes milk prices, politics in farm talks

Minnesota's Klobuchar on conference committee says it will be a test of bipartisanship

(Continued)

"What are we waiting for?" Obama said. "Let's get this done."

The main challenge in getting the bill done will be the differences on food stamps, officially called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. The House has passed legislation to cut around $4 billion annually, or around 5 percent, including changes in eligibility and work requirements. The Senate has proposed a cut of around a tenth of that amount.

"I think there are very different world views clashing on food stamps and those are always more difficult to resolve," says Roger Johnson, president of the National Farmers Union.

Johnson says coming together on the farm issues, while there are differences, will be easier because the mostly farm-state lawmakers negotiating the bill have common goals.

Passing a farm bill could help farm-state lawmakers in both parties in next year's elections, though some Republicans are wary of debating domestic food aid in campaign season. Republican House leaders put the bill on hold during the 2012 election year.

One way to pass the bill quickly could be to wrap it into budget negotiations that will be going on at the same time. The farm bill is expected to save tens of billions of dollars through food stamp cuts and eliminating some subsidy programs, and "that savings has become more key as we go into budget negotiations," Klobuchar said.

If that doesn't work, lawmakers could extend current law, as they did at the end of last year when the dairy threat loomed. But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has said he wants to finish the bill and won't support another extension.

One of the reasons the bill's progress has moved slowly is that most of farm country is enjoying a good agricultural economy, and farmers have not clamored for changes in policy. But with deadlines looming, many say they need more government certainty to make planting decisions. Most of the current law expired in September, though effects largely won't be felt until next year when the dairy supports expire.

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