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July 10, 2012

House begins to consider farm bill

STILLWATER, Okla. — U.S. House agriculture leaders were set to begin considering the House version of the 2012 farm bill Wednesday morning.

The Senate has already adopted its version of the new farm bill, which would replace the 2008 bill that expires Sept. 30. If the House version makes it out of committee, it will have to be approved by the full House and then reconciled with the Senate bill.

The differences in the two bills will likely be the source of contention in upcoming months. Both bills do away with the direct payment farm subsidy program and try to craft a new safety net in its place.

Both bills use subsidized crop insurance programs as a safety net alternative, but the House bill also includes an option for farmers to choose using reference prices instead.

The AgriLife Research and Extension of Texas A&M University released a study earlier this month comparing the Senate and House safety net provisions.

The study says provisions such as income limits and maximum payout were more generous in the House version. The study also said the House bill provided more protection if crop prices start dropping significantly.

“Only the House (program) provides meaningful support when prices are declining,” the study states.

Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Okla., a western Oklahoma farmer-rancher who is the chairman of the House Ag Committee and represents Oklahoma’s 3rd Congressional District, said the study shows why the House version provides more support for farmers.

“What the (study) says is that the House managed to save taxpayers money and reduce the deficit while still providing a safety net that farmers can truly depend on in hard times,” Lucas said. “The biggest take-away from the study is the absolute importance of real price protection in a farm bill.”

In all, the Senate version costs $23 billion less than the old farm bill and the House version would be $33 billion less. However, one of the ways the House version saves that money has already drawn significant opposition from Democrats.

Speaking in June, Lucas said the feeling from the House was that cost cutting should be spread over all parts of the farm bill and not just agriculture programs. This would include cuts to the social nutrition programs that amount for 80 percent of the money in the bill — such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly called food stamps.

The House version does away with categorical eligibility for SNAP.

Categorical eligibility bypasses the asset test used in the SNAP program and means that households qualifying for other low-income assistance programs can automatically qualify for SNAP.

That change is expected to account for the vast majority of approximately $15 billion in money cut out of the farm bill’s social nutrition programs.

Lucas has defended the move, saying the change shouldn’t withhold help from those who need it but rather provide accountability that the recipients do need the assistance.

Should the House and Senate version be unable to be passed and reconciled in time for the Sept. 30 deadline, Congress is expected to extend the existing farm bill.

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