12/16/2013 10:31 pm ET Updated Feb 15, 2014

House and Senate Farm Bill Versions Less Different Than They Seem

The continuing congressional standoff over the 2013 Farm Bill and Speaker Boehner's insinuation of yet another extension of 2008 legislation suggests that the House and Senate versions currently being weighed by conference committee are vastly different. The truth is, the bills are a little less than $40 billion apart. While this seems a significant amount of money, the chasm in spending is spread across ten years and is part of an overall policy that will ultimately cost $1 trillion. In short, it is a "drop in the bucket."

A quick read of the two Farm Bill versions suggests that most provisions on which the two chambers differ should easily lend themselves to compromise including basic price and revenue protection for farmers, dairy support and conservation. It seems that the primary culprit in the stalemate between Democrats and Republicans is the expensive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, or "food stamps").

Essentially, the House's version of the bill adds stricter eligibility requirements for the program and formally supports state-level implementation of work requirements for SNAP benefit recipients. Given the political importance of the SNAP program ultimately to all members of Congress, debate here is no surprise. However, the common bicameral objectives of making SNAP more effective, mitigating fraud and truly assisting food-insecure households should facilitate debate that is focused and full of compromise. Without it, the year-long uncertainty over law of critical importance to American agriculturalists will persist.