U.S. farm law expires again with lawmakers split on new bill

USDA has lost authority to run agricultural export, global food aid and livestock disaster relief programs

Overshadowed by the government shutdown, the U.S. farm subsidy law expired for the second time Oct. 1 with lawmakers still deadlocked over how to confront cuts in food assistance programs for low-income Americans.

Analysts say Congress is more likely to revive the farm law for another year or two, the path it took when the law expired a year ago, than agree on a new bill.

“They don’t even have the process in place to get it done,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a speech Oct. 1 to United Fresh, a trade group for produce growers and processors.

The Democratic-run Senate has proposed $4.5 billion in loophole closing for food stamps. The Republican-controlled House wants to cut $40 billion over 10 years through tighter eligibility rules that would disqualify four million people.

With expiration, the Agriculture Department lost authority to run agricultural export, global food aid, livestock disaster relief and some conservation programs. Crop subsidies, crop insurance and food stamps, the big-ticket programs, are permanently authorized and remain in business.

Congress took two procedural steps in the past four days toward negotiations on a final version of the Farm Bill, but the Republican-controlled House must name its negotiators before talks can begin.

The new five-year Farm Bill could cost $500 billion with food stamps accounting for three-quarters of the spending.

On Oct. 1, the Senate formally asked the House for a “conference” on the farm bill and appointed the same 12 negotiators it named in August. The reappointments were necessary because the House merged separate farm subsidy and food stamp bills into one bill over the weekend.

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