Congressional negotiators agreed Monday evening on a massive farm bill that would keep agriculture subsidies, crop insurance and the food stamp program funded for another five years while ushering in reforms that promise to lower the deficit.
The measure would cost almost $100 billion a year over five years, with a cut of about $2.3 billion a year from current spending.
Negotiators from both congressional chambers have been meeting for weeks to hammer out the final details of the measure, which would provide an economic boost to farmers and agriculture-related businesses that the bill's backers say will stimulate the nation's economy.
The biggest sticking point was how much funding to cut from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly called the food stamp program, which traditionally is included in the farm bill.
The final compromise is expected to cut food stamp funding by about $800 million a year, or about 1 percent. That's twice the $400 million in cuts included in a bill that passed the Democratic-run Senate last year, but a small fraction of the 5 percent cut to the $80 billion program that House Republicans proposed last year.
The bill would continue to heavily subsidize major crops such as corn, soybeans, wheat, rice and cotton but would shift many of those subsidies toward crop insurance programs. This means farmers would have to incur losses before they received a payout.
The measure would end a $5 billion-a-year farm subsidy called direct payments, which are now paid to farmers whether they farm or not.
The bill is expected to leave in place the federal sugar program, a collection of subsides, tariff restrictions and production quotas that many fiscal conservatives and free marketer advocates long have derided as outdated.
"I am proud of our efforts to finish a farm bill conference report with significant savings and reforms," said House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla. "We are putting in place sound policy that is good for farmers, ranchers, consumers and those who have hit difficult times."
Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., chairwoman of her chamber's agriculture panel, said the measure would save billions of dollars compared with the most recent five-year bill by eliminating "unnecessary" subsidies in a move that "creates a more effective farm safety net."
"This bill proves that by working across party lines we can reform programs to save taxpayer money while strengthening efforts to grow our economy," she said.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, who has voted against the past two long-term farm bills, suggested Monday night he would support the latest version.
"The House-Senate agreement announced this evening is a positive step in the right direction," he said. "This legislation … is worthy of the House’s support."
CORRECTION: This article originally stated an incorrect amount by which House Republicans wished to cut the food stamp program.
This article is based in part on wire-service reports.