The farm bill conference committee consisting of both U.S. House and Senate members held its first meeting on October 30 with the aim of hashing out the differences between the two different bills passed by the two houses. The current farm bill, an extension of the 2008 farm bill, expired October 1.
The Senate on June 10 passed its version of the farm bill, which would expand government subsidies for crop insurance, rice and peanuts while making small cuts to food stamps. The legislation is estimated to save about $2.4 billion a year on farm and nutrition programs, including across-the-board cuts that took effect earlier in 2013.
The House passed a different version of the bill on July 11 that did not include food stamp provisions. The House version also included the King Amendment, which would have the potential to nullify more than 150 state laws affecting agriculture, including California's Proposition 2, which aims at ending the use of battery cages for laying hens. The House then on September 19 passed its second piece of the farm bill, the Nutrition Reform and Work Opportunity Act, which specifically addresses food stamp reform and potentially saves $40 billion.
"When we are successful, when we have reached consensus, we will have a final product that provides major savings to the Treasury, significant reforms to policy, and yet still provides a safety net for not only the production of food and fiber, but also to ensure our fellow citizens have enough food to eat," said House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla. "I take this seriously."
U.S. Agriculture Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack has urged conferees to put aside their differences and get a bill completed. A panel of former agriculture secretaries on October 21 told an audience at Kansas State University that a farm bill will likely pass in 2013.