By Charles Abbott
WASHINGTON, Oct 23 (Reuters) - U.S. Senate and Housenegotiators, who will begin working on a compromise farm bill onOct. 30, face a major fight over proposed deep cuts in foodstamps for the poor.
The leaders of the House and Senate Agriculture committeesjointly announced the first meeting of a conference committee,made up of 41 members of the House and Senate who will hammerout differences in the Senate and House bills.
Food stamps are the paramount issue. TheRepublican-controlled House wants stricter eligibility rulesthat would save $39 billion over 10 years, about 10 times thecuts proposed by the Senate.
Other provisions that the conferees will wrestle with include requiring conservation practices of farmers, spendingmore on federally subsidized crop insurance and making therichest farmers pay more for insurance.
Food stamps constitute the major U.S. domestic anti-hungerprogram. At last count 47.8 million people, made up mostly of children, the elderly or disabled, received benefits averagingabout $4.37 a day.
To have any chance of passage in both chambers, the finalversion of the farm bill probably will propose cuts of $8billion to $12 billion, said the National SustainableAgriculture Coalition, which represents small farms.
The bills would cut conservation spending by around $6billion and increase spending on federally subsidized cropinsurance by up to $10 billion over a decade.
House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, who heads the conference committee, opposes Senate provisions that wouldtighten rules for subsidies for farmers, require farmers topractice conservation to qualify for crop insurance subsidiesand make the wealthiest 1 percent of growers, with more than$750,000 adjusted gross income, pay more for the insurance.
Conference committees typically need several weeks of work,much of it in private, to write a final version of a bill. Afarm lobbyist said congressional staff already have resolvedminor differences in noncontroversial sections of the bill.
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