MARY CLARE JALONICK Associated Press
WASHINGTON - House Speaker John Boehner says he will vote for a wide-ranging farm bill headed to the House floor this month, a major boost for the five year, half-trillion dollar legislation that stalled in the House last year.
The Ohio Republican voted against the last farm bill in 2008 and said Wednesday that he has concerns with this year's version as well. But doing nothing, Boehner said, means "that we get no changes in the farm program, no changes in the nutrition program."
Almost 80 percent of the almost $100 billion-a-year bill's cost goes to food stamps, which have more than doubled in cost since 2008. The farm bill approved by the House Agriculture Committee last month cuts that program by a little more than 3 percent and makes it harder for some people to qualify. The bill also eliminates some farm subsidies, including a $5 billion-a-year support that pays farmers whether they farm or not.
At the same time the bill expands other subsidies, creating a new crop insurance program and boosting support for several individual crops. Overall, the bill saves about $4 billion a year.
Boehner said that whatever his own concerns with the legislation, he wants to see it move to a House-Senate conference.
"I'm going to vote for the farm bill to make sure that the good work of the Agriculture Committee and whatever the floor might do to improve this bill gets to a conference so that we can get the kind of changes that people want in our nutrition programs and in our farm programs," he said.
Boehner said earlier this week that the House will vote on the bill this month and encouraged members of the chamber to offer amendments to make the bill better. Conservatives in have been divided over the food stamp program, which now serves around one in seven Americans. Some feel the committee's cuts don't go far enough to reduce the size of the domestic food aid.
The speaker signaled support for the House bill's level of food stamp cuts, saying they are changes that "both parties know are necessary."
Conservative groups have been pressuring Republicans to vote against the farm bill, saying it is too costly. One such group, Heritage Action, has paid for radio ads targeting specific lawmakers, including House Agriculture Committee chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla.
"Republicans retained control of the House to serve as a check on President Obama's disastrous policies, advancing a nearly one trillion dollar food stamp and farm bill ignores that mandate," Heritage Action's Michael Needham said in a statement after Boehner announced his intention to vote for the bill, referring to the bill's cost over the next decade.
The Senate passed its version of the farm bill Monday. That bill makes similar changes to farm subsidies but makes a much smaller cut to domestic food aid, cutting the food stamp program by only one half of one percent and making no changes to eligibility.
The Senate passed a similar farm bill last year, but the House declined to take it up during an election year and amid the GOP division on food stamps.