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Farm bill nearly finished

DANIEL LOOKER 01/24/2014 @ 5:52pm Business Editor

Two attorneys with Washington experience said Friday that negotiations over a final farm bill may have been completed, with a vote in Congress possible as early as next week.

Rumors are circulating "that the House may take this up next week," said James Jochum, an attorney with the Jochum Shore & Trossevin, PC in Washington, DC

Jochum was speaking on 2014 legislation that affects farmers during the Land Investment Expo in West Des Moines. Jochum was Senator Chuck Grassley's agricultural aide when the 1996 farm bill was written and has knowledgeable contacts in the nation's capital. "I talked to someone this morning who reconfirmed," he said.

Jochum said he believes that most of the differences that were holding up negotiations have been worked out and that the House and Senate agriculture committee leaders are now trying to get a majority of the members of the conference committee to sign the committee's report. That means the committee would not meet in open session again and that the bill would go directly to the House and Senate for a vote soon.

"I think there are several issues that need to be worked out and are being work out," Jochum said.

"I have heard that the dairy provisions are worked out," he said. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) has said that he could not support a milk price risk program championed by Representative Collin Peterson (D-MN), the ranking minority member on the House Agriculture Committee.

One issue that has gotten a lot of publicity – the level of spending on the supplemental nutrition assistance program (SNAP) - has also been resolved, said Bill Hanigan, an attorney with the DavisBrown Law Firm in Des Moines, Iowa.

"I think SNAP is a done deal," said Hanigan, another former Grassley staffer who worked on tax issues for the senator who has served on both the agriculture and finance committees, and as chair of the finance committee.

The House passed a separate nutrition bill last summer that would have cut nearly $40 billion over the next decade in SNAP, while the farm bill passed by the Senate trimmed spending by about $4 billion.

Such a major difference was expected to be an obstacle to putting together a final bill, but Hanigan said, "They seem to be settling on something just under $9 billion."

That amount of spending cut was chosen with the expectation that the House will vote for it, Hanigan said. "I don't think it's going to be a problem."

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