Proposed Farm Bills Would Cut Billions from Current Spending Levels

The House and Senate are set to consider separate five-year farm bills that would cut billions annually from current spending levels after the agriculture committees from both chambers approved the legislation last week.

Savings from both plans would come in large part from reducing funding for the supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — which provides food credits for the poor — and phasing out the controversial automatic subsidies that go to producers of certain crops such as corn and cotton.

The Senate plans to begin debate on its farm bill Monday, while the House is expected to consider its version in June.

Both measures would cost about $100 billion annually, with around 80 percent of the funds going toward domestic food aid.

The Senate bill would trim about $2.4 billion yearly from current spending, while the House legislation would save almost $4 billion. Those reductions include about $600 million in savings required through the automatic budget cuts known as the sequester, which took effect in March.

The Senate measure would reduce SNAP funding, which currently stands at $80 billion a year, by about $400 million annually. Part of the savings would come from preventing states from providing tiny amounts of heating assistance to people who don’t have heating bills — a maneuver that allows those individuals to qualify for greater food credits.

The House bill would cut $2 billion annually through similar changes, on top of ending automatic SNAP benefits for people who sign up for other assistance programs.

Both bills would eliminate the roughly $5 billion in annual subsidies known as “direct payments,” which automatically support certain types of farmers regardless of their crop prices or yield. The Senate version would terminate the program immediately, while the House measure would wean cotton farmers off it during the next two years.

The two measures would also increase subsidies for federally subsidized crop insurance and create a new program to cover small losses on planted crops such as corn and soybeans.

The bills would additionally raise the “target price” at which subsidies kick in for rice and peanuts.

The R Street Institute, a nonprofit government-watchdog group and free-market think-tank, criticized the Senate bill for directing much of the savings from ending direct payments toward expanding subsidies on other areas.

“Any new farm bill should ensure that Americans aren’t subsidizing the rich, encouraging risky behavior and harming the environment with their tax dollars,” said Andrew Moylan, a senior fellow for the group. “This [Senate] draft fails that test.”

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