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Politics & Government

Bipartisan Farm Bill Spells Savings And Changes To Subsidies

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Lawmakers have made a breakthrough on a long-awaited farm bill. Late today, House and Senate negotiators announced that they reached a compromise that would, among other things, make cuts to the food stamps program, but those cuts would be only a fraction of what House Republicans wanted. It will also cut or consolidate many agriculture subsidy programs, and for more on this we're joined by reporter Derek Wallbank of Bloomberg News. And Derek, what exactly would happen to the food stamps program as a result of this bill?

DEREK WALLBANK: Well, food stamps would wind up getting cut by about $8 billion over ten years. That's roughly one-fifth of what House Republicans had originally asked for, and while it's a little more than Senate Democrats had wanted to give, I think they're very happy with the result at the end.

SIEGEL: Government subsidies to farmers will also be affected by this measure. What would happen?

WALLBANK: Well, direct payments to farmers, which are sort of the apex example of government fraud and waste and things that we could do without. The direct payments are gone. In their place is an expanded insurance-based safety net, although it's come under fire for being, in some people's minds, too generous. There is some concern that it could pay out in good times as well as very bad times. So you will see a little opposition to that, however in most cases we see farm commodity crop groups supporting this final bill, they've all rushed out to say that they really like it and this will be a good change that will not leave farmers in the lurch in very bad times.

SIEGEL: Derek, there are real differences over farm legislation but a farm bill doesn't seem to be one of the hot-button questions on Capitol Hill. Why has it taken so long for a farm bill to finally emerge from Congress?

WALLBANK: There are deep, deep divisions in very specific areas. What you've seen are, you've seen a large fight over dairy policy. Basically, how do we not have milk be $1 a gallon to where dairy farmers would go bankrupt, but not soar up to $8 a gallon where you wouldn't be able to buy it at the grocery store easily. You get into entrenched battles here among people who might not have a lot, in terms of broad stake in here, but their very specific part is almost all that they care about, and you have a lot of those little fights and that has played out in Congress for basically the last three years here, in addition to the partisan wrangling over food stamps and how much to cut them.

SIEGEL: What happens to the farm bill from here?

WALLBANK: We have confirmation from the majority leader's office that the House will take this bill up this week. The Senate is expected to follow as early as next week, meaning that by Presidents' Day this should all be done. And tomorrow, President Barack Obama can take credit for Congress finally getting a piece of bipartisan legislation to his desk that he's expected to sign.

SIEGEL: OK. Thank you, Derek.

WALLBANK: You're very welcome.

SIEGEL: That's Derek Wallbank of Bloomberg News talking about the farm bill that congressional negotiators have agreed on today. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.