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WASHINGTON, DC - With Congress distracted by the ongoing Syrian situation, Sen. Tom Harkin thinks it is increasingly likely the farm bill will expire before the House and Senate can reach a compromise on funding the nutrition programs that make up the bulk of the cost of the five-year program.
His optimism that the House and Senate could work out their differences over funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program – food stamps – could be worked out faded as Congress dealt with the possibility of authorizing military action against Syria.
"I don't think we'll do any kind of an extension," he said about the prospect of the farm bill expiring at the end of September. "We'll let the present one expire. Not much will happen right away and, hopefully, we can go to conference in October."
Before anything can happen, the House must send the bill to a conference committee where the differences between the two chambers' version can be worked out. Harkin isn't sure whether it would be better if the $40 billion cut in SNAP over 10 years was approved or defeated, but it needs to act to get the farm bill moving.
"If House approves $40 billion cut it's going to be by a very narrow margin," he said. "I dare say they won't get one Democratic vote and they will lose Republican votes.
"Maybe if they can bring it up and defeat it that would be best the best thing," he said.
There is no way the Senate, which approved a half-trillion dollar farm bill that included both the food stamp measures as well as farm and conservation programs on a 66-27 vote, will agree with the House's $40 billion cut, Harkin said. The Senate cut nutrition programs by$4 billion cut or less than one-half of 1 percent. He has insisted that the House will have to come close to the Senate figure rather than split the difference.
If the House votes and sends the bill to conference committee, Harkin thinks a compromise could be reached within a month.