Deep cuts in U.S. food-stamp spending sought by House Republicans were averted in a tentative agreement on a much-delayed agriculture bill, according to a congressional aide familiar with the matter.
The proposed farm legislation crafted by U.S. lawmakers, billed as saving $24 billion through food-stamp cuts and the end of a direct-payment program for farmers, may advance to the Senate after a vote in the House of Representatives that could take place as soon as Jan. 29.
By approving a plan that largely keeps food stamps intact and preserves most farm subsidies, an urban-rural coalition has been maintained amid a tough political environment that saw an earlier plan rejected in the House. If it passes, the agreement would be another bipartisan achievement by a Congress faulted for a lack of legislative success.
Leaders of the House and Senate agriculture committee are being asked to sign off on the plan today, after weekend talks. The House plans to act before leaving town this week for party strategy meetings. The House Rules Committee is scheduled to meet at 5 p.m. Washington time and may consider the farm plan, according to the aide.
Some of the savings may go to compensate counties with large swaths of untaxed federal land, a $450 million item House Speaker John Boehner assured lawmakers earlier this month would be in the bill.
The bill to reauthorize U.S. Department of Agriculture programs governs farm subsidies, which encourages planting of soybeans, cotton and other crops that lower materials costs for commodity processors including Bunge Ltd. The bill subsidizes crop-insurers such as Ace Ltd. and funds purchases at Kroger Co. and other grocers through food stamps, its biggest expense.
The farm-bill accord would be a third bipartisan deal by the current Congress, which passed a budget last month and cleared a $1.1 trillion spending bill on Jan. 16. The five-year farm legislation would end an aid program that makes direct payments to farmers and cost about $50 billion over 10 years, and reduces food stamps. Much of the subsidy spending was restored in other programs.
The agreement reached on food stamps would cut spending by $8 billion over 10 years, or about one-fifth of the $40 billion sought by House Republicans. Negotiators agreed to tighten a provision that let states give residents as little as $1 a year in heating assistance to qualify them for an average of $1,080 in additional nutrition aid.