Negotiations On Farm Bill Add Billions For Nutrition

By Dan Morgan
Special to The Washington Post
Saturday, April 26, 2008

House and Senate negotiators reached tentative agreement yesterday on a new $290 billion, multiyear farm bill that would add about $10.4 billion for nutrition programs while continuing to channel billions of dollars to farmers, even if prices stay at current record levels.

Key details remain to be worked out, but lawmakers said a final deal could come next week on the bill. The government would spend $10 billion more than allocated by congressional budget committees last year. The Bush administration had proposed an increase of about $5.5 billion.

The current farm bill expired last October but has been extended a number of times.

Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) said the agreement would include a new permanent program that guarantees aid to farmers and ranchers suffering weather-related losses, a priority of senators from Western states hit by drought.

Included in the bill is $405 million to be spent over 10 years on the cleanup of farm-related pollution in the Chesapeake Bay. The program, sponsored by Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) would help reduce the runoff of nutrients and other pollutants from farms.

The bill would reduce the tax credit for ethanol made from corn to 45 cents per gallon from 51, but the tax credit would be extended through 2010.

Rising food costs gave a strong impetus to stepped-up funding for programs such as food stamps that help poor and near-poor families. Farm bill versions passed by the House and Senate last year proposed modest increases in food stamp benefits and eased standards of eligibility for the program.

Last week, Senate negotiators offered a $9.5 billion increase over 10 years. Yesterday, they upped that offer by $800 million to $900 million, sources indicated.

The bill also includes a provision that would require the labeling of imported meat and vegetables for the first time, a response to rising concerns about food safety.

Morgan is a contract writer for The Washington Post and a fellow at the German Marshall Fund, a nonpartisan public policy institution.

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