The half-trillion farm bill that passed the Senate in June would reduce spending by almost $24 billion, mostly through cuts in conservation, food stamps and the end of direct payments in favor of new crop insurance programs.
The House Agriculture Committee is set to take up the bill on July 11. The committee on Thursday proposed deeper cuts of more than $35 billion, including a larger reduction for food stamps and price protection to farmers that would end in the Senate's version. They also would end direct payments and consolidate 23 conservation programs into 13 to save money.
A spokeswoman with the House Agriculture Committee said House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., has not said he is unwilling to move forward on the farm bill, and members of the committee are doing all they can to get it to the floor. "My priority is to advance a bill out of committee," said Frank Lucas, R-Okla., chairman of the House panel. "Once we've done our work, (we) will ask leadership for floor time."
Senate lawmakers have begun ratcheting up the pressure on their counterparts in the House to move quickly. "It's up to the House to get it done," said Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D. "The farm bill will not expire, at worst it will be extended for the time being."
Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley, a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, said the farm bill is likely the only shot lawmakers will have to pass a major piece of legislation this year that reduces government spending. "For the sake or rural America and the nation's food supply, it makes more sense to take care of the farm bill this year than to kick it down the road with an extension," said.
Even if the full House passes its bill, members will embark on a five-week recess starting in August before returning in mid-September, leaving precious time for the House and Senate to merge their bills, vote on the measure and get it signed into law by the president before Sept. 30.
David Swenson, an economics professor at Iowa State University, said an extension appears to be the most likely option. Congress is "going to take the path of least resistance no matter what," said Swenson. "And I think that path…is to extend the current provisions until we have a final law."
Analysts and lawmakers fear that if a farm bill is delayed until after the November election or till 2013 it could be subjected to even deeper spending cuts.