Groups urge U.S. House leaders to try again on farm bill

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WASHINGTON - Hundreds of U.S. farm and agribusiness groups have urged Republican leaders in the House of Representatives to try again to pass the $500 billion, five-year farm bill that suffered an historic and unexpected defeat in June.

In a letter to House Speaker John Boehner on Tuesday, the groups asked for a fresh vote as soon as possible. They also opposed the idea, floated by a faction of fiscally conservative Republicans, of splitting the bill into two parts.

"We believe that splitting the nutrition title from the rest of the bill could result in neither farm nor nutrition programs passing, and urge you to move a unified farm bill forward," said the letter signed by 532 local, state and national associations and businesses.

The June 20 vote was the first time the House rejected a farm bill and an embarrassment for Republican leaders Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor, who supported the bill and brought it to the House floor expecting it to pass.

Instead, it failed by 39 votes, 234-195, as 62 Tea Party-influenced Republicans joined 172 Democratic defenders of food stamps in voting against the bill.

Conservative Republicans wanted deeper cuts in farm programs and food stamps. Democrats said the bill's $20.5 billion in food stamp cuts were unacceptably large.

House Republican leaders have not announced their next steps. If a new farm law is not enacted by Sept. 30, the farm program will revert to the terms of a 1949 law that calls for sky-high support rates for certain goods. In one of the most visible impacts, the price of milk in grocery stores could double.

Despite opposition from farm groups, Indiana Republican Marlin Stutzman said this week that the proposal for two separate bills - one focused on farm subsidies, the other on food stamps - was far from dead.

"I'm finding a lot of interest in separating the bill," Stutzman said. "People are going to be surprised."

In its letter, the agriculture coalition gave Republican leaders leeway to re-fashion the farm bill if necessary.

It said "strong bipartisan support" was essential for a bill that meets farm, public nutrition and soil conservation priorities, and urged a vote "as soon as possible" after the House reconvenes on July 8.

Some analysts say the most likely result is another extension of the 2008 farm law.

The farm bill passed by the Senate on June 10 and the defeated House bill would expand the taxpayer-subsidized crop insurance system, end a $5 billion-a-year "direct payment subsidy" to growers and streamline soil conservation programs.

The Senate bill would save $23 billion over 10 years, the bulk of it from crop subsidies. The House bill would cut $40 billion, half of it from food stamps for the poor.

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