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Food stamps remain farm bill obstacle

Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee said Thursday that committee leaders are working to resolve differences in commodity programs before a final farm bill is considered, it that happens this year.

The Senate committee's chairwoman, Debbie Stabenow, has been talking to other members of the committee, including Saxby Chambliss (R-GA), Harkin told reporters.

"I don't know what kind of compromise is going to be made on peanuts and rice. That seems to be a sticking point," Harkin said.

Commodity groups representing those crops weren't happy with the amount of spending the Senate's farm bill provided them. But if it has to increase to get enough support for a final bill, Harkin didn't seem to think it's a deal breaker.

"When it comes to commodity programs, you can dial up and you can dial down," he said.

Harkin is opposed to making more cuts in spending for the SNAP program (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), formerly known as food stamps. The Senate's bill trims about $4 billion over the next 10 years. A bill passed by the House Agriculture Committee last summer would cut $16 billion.

Harkin said that some Republicans in the House favor even deeper cuts.

"What they want is what is in the Ryan budget," he said, referring to House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan's proposal to trim some $130 billion from SNAP over the next decade. Nutrition programs currently take up about 80% of the USDA budget, making them an attractive target for budget cutters. But Harkin said such cuts would allow many Americans to go hungry in the current economy.

"The way to reduce the impact of the SNAP program is more jobs," Harkin said.

He expects Stabenow to fight hard to prevent more cuts to SNAP in any farm bill that might come up for a vote in the House or be attached to a larger packing of legislation to deal with expiring tax cuts and spending cuts known as the fiscal cliff.

"At least on that issue, we've got to hang pretty tough," Harkin said.  

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