Forty-one U.S. Senate and House members – including three Minnesota lawmakers, all Democrats – are scheduled to sit down Wednesday afternoon for high-stakes negotiations on the farm bill in what could be a dramatic end to a two-year showdown over the legislation.
The conference committee is tasked with the job of hammering out a final agreement on competing House and Senate versions of the legislation.
The meeting is being viewed as the first big test of whether Congress is even capable of reaching compromises in the wake of the government shutdown and debt-ceiling crisis.
Perhaps the House-Senate panel's biggest stumbling block is the nation's food stamp program, which consumes nearly 80 percent of the farm bill. The broader bill lays out about $100 billion a year in spending, MPR News reports.
The GOP-controlled House bill cut nearly $40 billion over 10 years from the food stamp program, which could cut benefits to 32,000 Minnesotans, according to a state estimate. A Senate version cuts only about $4 billion over a decade from the program, Bloomberg reports.
Rep. Tim Walz, D-Minn., told MPR that he thinks the differences on the food stamp program are "bridgeable" and won't block a deal on the broader bill.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Rep. Collin Peterson, the top-ranking Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee, are the other two Minnesotans on the panel.
The overall bills set $500 billion in spending over five years, and the measures include a few other differences that need to be settled, USA Today notes, including differences in rules related to crop insurance for farmers.
Both bills would end direct payments made to farmers regardless of need, USA Today notes.
Also at issue in the negotiations are complex rules related to the nation's dairy farmers. If lawmakers allow dairy supports to expire at the end of the year, milk prices could spike in January.