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Farm Bill Could Hinge On Budget Talks

MARY CLARE JALONICK

WASHINGTON (AP) â¿¿ A farm bill that stalled in Congress before the election could see quick action by the end of the year if congressional leaders decide they need its spending cuts â¿¿ including a small reduction in the $80-billion-a-year food stamps program â¿¿ to make a deal for averting the "fiscal cliff."

The farm bill passed by the Senate in June would save $23 billion over 10 years, while a version passed by the House Agriculture Committee in July would save $35 billion. The savings come from cuts to farm subsidies and by tightening eligibility requirements for those who receive food stamps, now known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP.

That pot of money could be useful to lawmakers who will be scrambling in the year's final weeks to address the combination of tax increases and automatic spending cuts due in January â¿¿ dubbed the fiscal cliff because the combination could plunge the economy into another recession.

The Senate has already passed its version of the farm bill. So any decision to make it part of a budget agreement will require the acquiescence of Republican House leaders who stopped action on the bill before the election, saying there weren't enough votes. But they also avoided a nasty and what would have been a highly visible pre-election floor fight over food stamps.

Democrats said the program, which feeds about 1 in 7 Americans, shouldn't be touched while conservatives complained the bill's 2 percent cut in the program â¿¿ $1.6 billion a year â¿¿ was too small.

Doug Heye, a spokesman for House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, said no decisions have been made on how to move the farm bill or whether it will be part of the fiscal negotiations. The 2008 farm bill expired Sept. 30, so Congress at a minimum will have to extend parts of it into next year.

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