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US House committee advances farm bill draft with little support from Democrats

A farmer drives tractor along a road in Pearl City

By Leah Douglas

(Reuters) - The Republican-led U.S. House of Representatives Agriculture Committee passed its version of a $1.5 trillion farm spending bill late Thursday night with few Democratic votes, prolonging a standoff between the parties over key nutrition, agriculture, and climate policies.

WHY IT'S IMPORTANT

Congress failed in 2023 to pass a new farm bill, an omnibus legislative package passed every five years.

The House bill would have to be reconciled with a Senate bill led by Democrats and without strong bipartisan support, the House version has a slim chance of becoming law.

Further delay of a new farm bill could create uncertainty for farmers and people relying on food aid, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack warned on a Wednesday press call.

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Federal hunger aid for the poor like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and farm programs are currently operating under a one-year extension of the 2018 farm bill passed last September.

CONTEXT

The House bill - which passed out of the committee 33-21 with 4 Democratic votes - expands farm commodity supports, shrinks SNAP funding, and reallocates nearly $20 billion from the Inflation Reduction Act intended for climate-smart farm practices.

House Agriculture Committee chair Glenn "GT" Thompson said at the Thursday committee meeting that the bill "bolsters every aspect of American agriculture."

Democrats in the House and Senate have said cuts to food aid and reallocating the climate funds are red lines in negotiations.

"This bill is misguided, and in some aspects, it is mean-spirited," said the committee's top Democrat, David Scott.

Farm commodity groups have expressed support for the House bill, while environmental and hunger groups have opposed it.

KEY QUOTE

"Despite areas of common ground, it is now clear that key parts of the House bill split the Farm Bill coalition in a way that makes it impossible to achieve the votes to become law," said Senate Agriculture Committee chair Debbie Stabenow, a Democrat, in a statement on the bill's passage.

(Reporting by Leah Douglas; editing by Rod Nickel)