Food stamp fight looms in U.S. Congress

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The Democratic-run U.S. Senate passed a $500-billion, five-year Farm Bill on June 10 that expands a taxpayer-subsidized crop insurance program and rejects sweeping cuts in food stamps for the poor being pursued in the House of Representatives.

The bill passed easily, 66 to 27, and now goes to the Republican-controlled House.

It was the second time in a year that the Senate has sent a five-year Farm Bill to the Republican-led House, which let the bill die at the end of 2012.

Analysts say food stamp cuts are the legislation’s make-or-break issue, given otherwise broad similarities between the two versions.

While the Senate would trim food stamps by $4 billion over a decade, the bill awaiting debate in the House calls for a $20-billion cut, the largest in a generation. Some two million people, or four per cent of enrolment, would lose benefits.

House debate on the Farm Bill is expected this month. Speaker John Boehner on Monday promised “a vigorous and open debate” on the legislation. The National Farmers Union urged Congress to complete work before a stop-gap extension of farm law expires on Sept. 30.

Agricultural lobbyists and analysts said the Senate vote made a new farm law more likely but not certain this year.

A bruising fight was possible in the House over food stamps. Some 134 of the 201 Democrats in the House signed a resolution against any cuts. And some Republicans want steeper cuts in farm programs as well as in food stamps, which could jeopardize passage of a bill.

Farm Bills are panoramic legislation covering food aid, rural economic development, biofuels development and agricultural research along with crop subsidies, food stamps and conservation.

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