"Congress returns to the 'farm bill' about every five years to establish an omnibus policy for food and agriculture. Deficit reduction influenced the Agricultural Act of 2014 (P.L. 113-79; 2014 farm bill) throughout its legislative development. Related political dynamics sometimes forced Congress to make difficult choices concerning how much total support to provide for agriculture and nutrition, and how to allocate it among competing constituencies. The farm bill authorizes programs in two spending categories: mandatory and discretionary. Mandatory programs generally operate as entitlements; the farm bill pays for them using multiyear budget estimates when the law is enacted. Discretionary programs are authorized for their scope, but are not funded in the farm bill; they are subject to appropriations. While both types of programs are important, mandatory programs often dominate the farm bill debate. At enactment of the 2014 farm bill, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated the total cost of mandatory programs would be $489 billion over the next five years (FY2014-FY2018). Four farm bill titles account for most of the mandatory spending. Of the projected net outlays over five years, about 80% ($391 billion over five years) is for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program--SNAP, formerly food stamps. Farm commodity support and crop insurance are expected to account for a combined 13% of mandatory program costs ($65 billion), with another 6% of costs in USDA conservation programs ($28 billion). Programs in all other farm bill titles are expected to account for about 1% of all mandatory expenditures."
CRS Report for Congress, R42484