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Noem ‘cautiously optimistic’ about finishing farm bill

Rep. Kristi Noem, R-S.D., said Congress is finishing up negotiations on a new farm bill.

A farm bill agreement is within reach, Rep. Kristi Noem, R-S.D., said Thursday, citing a breakthrough meeting held by key lawmakers Wednesday.

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“I’m very glad we’ve been able to make some much-needed progress, but there’s still a lot of work that needs to be done,” she said. “I do feel better about our progress than I did just two days ago. I’m cautiously optimistic that a common-sense compromise is just around the corner.”

Noem said lawmakers have generally agreed about how to reform the food stamp program, formally known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). An estimated $10 billion will be cut over 10 years, closer to the Senate’s $4 billion in proposed cuts than the $40 billion sought by the House.

“We certainly don’t have the amount of cuts that everybody would like to see, but we do have some much-needed reforms that bring integrity back into that program,” Noem said.

The negotiated framework would make it more difficult to extend food stamp benefits to people simply because they receive heating assistance, sometimes as little as $1 per year.

Next, lawmakers need to hammer out disagreements among lobbyists for various commodity crops, including on specifics affecting global trade. Loose ends also remain on dairy policy, Noem said.

“It’s possible we will have another conference committee meeting to debate these miscellaneous title items. That’s really what it will take to wrap up this conference,” Noem said, referring to the House-Senate conference committee that is working out differences between bills passed in the two chambers. Noem is a member of the conference committee.

Lawmakers are pushing up against a year-end deadline, and Noem said a finished bill is unlikely by then.

“I am optimistic we will have an agreement we will be able to announce,” Noem said. “As far as having a law that’s signed before the beginning of the year, that might be bit of a challenge.”

Meanwhile, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, offered a more pessimistic view, according to the Washington, D.C., publication The Hill, which reported Thursday that he “downplayed the likelihood of imminent agreements on the budget and the farm bill, two major items that leaders hope to resolve by the end of the year.”

Boehner said he is “hopeful” that the House GOP Budget Committee chief, Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and his Democratic counterpart in the Senate, Sen. Patty Murray, of Washington, can strike a deal that could pass both chambers of Congress, but that none was yet at hand, The Hill reported.

“Paul Ryan came in today and gave us an update on where they were,” Boehner said at his weekly Capitol press conference. “I’m hopeful that they’ll be able to work this out, but there’s clearly no agreement.”

He would not say whether or when the House would move to pass a stopgap spending bill if no agreement was reached, The Hill reported. The House-Senate budget conference committee has a deadline of Dec. 13, but federal funding does not run out until Jan. 15.