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Keeping a close eye on key federal legislation, North Central Pennsylvania Regional Planning and Development [NCPRPDC] officials are carefully watching the Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act [House Resolution 6083], which was advanced July 12 by the House Agriculture Committee.
The five-year farm bill House measure, which was approved by the committee 35-11, would amend and extend a number of major programs administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture [USDA], including those addressing farm income support, food and nutrition, land conservation, trade promotion, rural development, research, forestry, energy, horticulture, and crop insurance through fiscal year 2017.
"Like the Senate bill, the House measure repeals or consolidates more than 100 programs," said North Central Executive Director Eric Bridges. "The House bill would also reduce food and nutrition spending by more than $35 billion, mainly cutting about $16.5 billion from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program [formerly the food stamps program].
"The Senate bill [S. 3240] which was passed on June 21 cut about $23 billion in spending, with $4.5 billion in savings coming from food stamps. About 80 percent of farm bill spending goes to food stamps."
Bridges said the big question is whether or not the House Republican leadership will move the bill to the floor before the November elections.
"House leaders also have the option to bypass a House floor vote and send the legislation directly to conference with the Senate, which approved its version of the farm bill [S. 3240] on June 21," Bridges said.
Several obstacles stand in the way in regard to moving the bipartisan package forward before the November election, including a short legislative calendar to complete work on the bill, major fundamental differences between House and Senate versions of the bill, and pressure from Republicans for larger cuts in government spending.
"Ultimately, the House and Senate must work out a final compromise before Sept. 30, when the current five-year farm bill passed in 2008 expires," Bridges said, "or else an extension would be necessary."