House leaders wary of farm, postal bill showdowns

By Jim Abrams

Associated Press

Published: Sunday, July 22 2012 12:00 a.m. MDT

The Senate passed its version of the farm bill last month, a five-year, $500 billion package that makes fundamental changes to federal safety net programs, including eliminating direct payments to farmers who don't plant anything. It also reauthorizes an expired livestock disaster assistance program. Lucas' committee, by a strong bipartisan vote, has approved similar legislation. The House bill would cut $35 billion from the deficit over 10 years, compared with $23 billion in the Senate bill.

The current farm bill expires at the end of September, and "time is short," wrote the National Association of Wheat Growers, the National Corn Growers Association and 44 other farm groups. The farm bill "is among the most important pieces of legislation Congress will consider this year" and "we reject calls for delay."

But the House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., have brushed aside pressures to bring the bill up. Besides the focus on election-year topics, there's a reluctance to spend time on a farm bill that could produce hundreds of amendments and might not pass.

Some conservatives dislike the bill because of its high cost and its continued federal subsidies for farmers. They are certain to try to increase cuts to the food stamp program, which consumes some 80 percent of the farm bill budget, nearly $80 billion a year. Some Democrats, on the other hand, might vote against the bill because they object to cuts the committee already made to the food stamp programs, about $1.6 billion a year.

"No decisions have been made on the farm bill as yet," Boehner told reporters Thursday without saying when a decision might be made.

The situation is similar for the Postal Service bill.

The Senate-approved bill gives the agency an $11 billion cash infusion and reduces future retiree health payments while delaying a move to five-day delivery for two years. A bill that emerged from the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee last October was more aggressive in cutting costs, raising Democratic criticism that it would put more federal workers out of jobs.

The agency is losing $25 million a day and faces two payment deadlines — of $5.5 billion on Aug. 1 and $5.6 billion at the end of September — for future retiree health costs. Without congressional action the service will be forced to default. Congress has extended those payment deadlines in the past and could do it again.

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