The main obstacle in the way of a five-year farm bill is disagreement in both houses of Congress over the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which makes up about 80% of the bill’s expected cost.
Prior to the recess for the election, the problem was in the House. The Senate had already passed its version of the farm bill in the summer, but the farm bill never came to a vote in the House, even though the House Agriculture Committee succeeded in getting a measure together. Republicans wants to find savings by cutting from SNAP while Democrats say SNAP assistance should not be reduced. The farm bill approved by the House Ag Committee and generalized as Republican legislation would cut around $16 billion from SNAP. The Senate, by comparison, avoided large cuts. As a result, with no agreement on SNAP, the farm bill being delayed into the new year has become a very real possibility. If the farm bill is pushed into the new year, the process will have to begin all over again. And, even if legislation is approved by the House prior to January 1, differences must be worked out with the Senate before the farm bill is completed. The Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute’s Patrick Westhoff says odds are against a five-year farm bill in the lame duck session unless it’s part of a budget agreement, and he believes a budget deal is also unlikely.
There’s also a possibility that food stamps could be separated from the rest of the farm bill. During the farm bill debate in the Senate an effort arose to sever the food stamps section from the rest of the bill, and while it failed in the Senate, Ohio Republican Congressman Jim Jordan will seek to do the same thing if the House does debate the farm bill before the end of the year.