The Free Press, Mankato, MN

State, national news

May 15, 2013

Farmers, food stamps face cuts

WASHINGTON — Lawmakers who last year failed to complete a rewrite of U.S. agricultural policy will restart their effort this week with pressure building for even bigger cuts for farmers and food-stamp recipients.

Federal budget-cutting and criticism that aid has been too lavish during a time of record revenue are driving proposals in the Senate and House agriculture committees to end direct payments to farmers and save $23 billion and $40 billion, respectively, over the next 10 years.

This could set up a struggle to pass a bill that will satisfy farmers, environmentalists and nutrition advocates, said Mark McMinimy, an analyst at Guggenheim Washington Research Group in Washington.

“It’s going to become a lot of nibbling among programs, trying to keep the core programs intact,” he said in an interview.

Both panels are scheduled this week to draft their versions of a new five-year law reauthorizing a half-trillion dollars in U.S. Department of Agriculture programs.

Crop subsidies benefiting buyers such as Archer-Daniels- Midland and food stamps subsidizing purchases at Supervalu are prime targets for lawmakers seeking to trim the deficit.

Last year, a bill passed the Senate that would have resulted in the first major reductions in farm aid since 1996.

The measure fizzled in the House, where leaders wanted deeper cuts to food stamps, the biggest USDA expense. The current law, passed in 2008, was extended in January until Sept. 30, after concerns were raised that a lapse in farm programs would double the price of milk.

Senate Agriculture Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., said the bill being crafted in her committee creates risk-management tools to protect farmers against market gyrations or weather disasters without subsidies that pay out even in good times.

In March, the Congressional Budget Office said the plans approved by the full Senate and the House Agriculture Committee last year would save less money than originally estimated, which has lawmakers pursuing more savings.

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