WASHINGTON — Farm-state lawmakers are scrambling to win bipartisan votes for a five year, half-trillion dollar farm bill on the House floor this week.
The legislation would cut $2 billion a year from food stamps while raising subsidies for several crops. Though it has support from rural lawmakers across the political spectrum, it is unclear whether Republicans will be able to gather the votes they need to pass the bill.
Many Republicans are seeking bigger cuts in the $80 billion-a-year food stamp program, and they say they'll vote against the measure. Democratic support is equally shaky, with liberals rallying against the food stamp cuts in the bill. The White House has threatened a veto, saying more money should be cut from farm subsidies and less from food stamps.
Meanwhile, the freshmen House members representing a large swath of the metro-east -- U.S. Rep. Bill Enyart, D-Belleville, and U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville -- have announced their support for the controversial legislation.
Enyart praised major portions of the proposal Tuesday, touting "several very good things" in it, including plans for upgrading Midwestern waterways "so that farmers can get their crops to market and so that we can get the inputs up the river -- the oil, the fertilizer, all those things."
Enyart praised the House bill's expansion of the federally subsidized crop insurance program through the elimination of $5 billion in direct subsidy payments to farmers, a long-criticized program because it provides subsidies to some of nation's wealthiest farmers and agri-businesses.
The expansion of the crop insurance program would provide "that safety net for farmers and ranchers so that if we get another horrible drought, then they will have paid a premium and get the insurance they paid for," Enyart said.
Davis also touted the expansion of the crop insurance program and called for ensuring that "we have as many people participating in the crop insurance because it makes the risk pool much larger..." and therefore results in more affordable premium costs.
One of the most vigorously contested partisan issues concerning the farm bill centers on proposed cuts to federal food stamp program, which has been renamed the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, which accounts for 80 percent of the U.S. Agriculture Department annual budget, or about $80 billion.
The House bill, the product of the Republican majority, calls for $20 billion in cuts over 10 years.
The version passed out of the Democratic-controlled Senate calls for only $4 billion in SNAP reductions in the coming decade.
Enyart called for passage of the House bill so that negotiators from both chambers can work out a compromise.
"So my belief is that we'll wind up somewhere in-between," he said. "So if we don't pass this farm bill out of the House, we won't even get the chance to do anything with it."
As for President Obama's threat to veto the House version of the farm bill, Davis called such a threat "disingenuous."
That's because, Davis said, Obama knows if the House bill passes, allowing for a House and Senate conference to work out a compromise version, "there's going to be a chance to actually come up with a good commonsense solution that's going to provide access to benefits to those who need them the most and also strengthen our crop insurance programs."
The bill calls for spending of almost $100 billion a year on food and farm programs.
In an effort to push the legislation through, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said last week that he will vote for it, while making it clear that he doesn't really like it. He said he wants to get the bill to a House-Senate conference and that passing the bill is better than doing nothing. The legislation would cut around $4 billion a year in overall spending on farm and nutrition programs.
Democratic leaders have said they will wait to see how the chamber votes on amendments but have so far signaled opposition to the measure. Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California is a "likely no" on the bill, according to an aide, and No. 2 House Democrat Steny Hoyer of Maryland called the food stamp cuts "irresponsible" on Tuesday.
House Agriculture Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., pleaded for votes on the House floor Tuesday, saying a robust farm policy is necessary to avoid farm crises like those in the 1930s and 1980s.
"I will work with all of you to improve this draft," he said. "I ask you to work with me."
Lucas called his bill the "most reform-minded bill in decades," saying it would make needed cuts to food stamps and eliminate $5 billion a year in direct payments, subsidies that are paid to farmers whether they grow or not. The bill also expands crop insurance and makes it easier for rice and peanut farmers to collect subsidies.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.