Senate passes farm bill; House vote is less sure
Wednesday, June 12, 2013 1:00 AM
WASHINGTON - The Senate approved a sweeping farm bill Monday that would cost nearly $955 billion over the next 10 years, the first step in a renewed attempt at passing legislation that would set the country's food and agriculture programs and policy.
The bill, which would finance programs as diverse as crop insurance for farmers, food assistance for low-income families and foreign food aid, passed with overwhelming bipartisan support, 66-27. The Senate passed a similar bill last year, but the House failed to bring its bill to a vote. The last farm bill that was passed by both chambers, in 2008, was extended until Sept. 30.
"The Senate today voted to support 16 million American jobs, to save taxpayers billions and to implement the most significant reforms to agriculture programs in decades," said Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee. She was a co-author of the bill with Sen. Thad Cochran of Mississippi, the ranking Republican on the committee.
The Senate bill would cut $24 billion from current spending levels, including about $4.1 billion from food stamps over the next 10 years. Groups fighting hunger said the cuts in food stamps would put millions of poor families at risk. A House version of the bill would provide for food stamp cuts of $20 billion, one major example of how far apart the two houses are in adjusting spending.
In the House, the farm bill faces a much tougher road. Last year, conservative lawmakers helped kill the bill because of their desire for deeper cuts in the food stamp program, which serves about 45 million Americans.
Conservation programs that help protect farmland and waters would be cut about $3.5 billion in the Senate bill, with additional cuts coming from the automatic spending cuts known as the sequester.
The most significant change would be the elimination of about $5 billion a year in direct payments to farmers and farmland owners, whether or not they grew crops. Eliminating the age-old program would make the highly subsidized crop insurance program the primary safety net when crop prices drop.
The agriculture industry generally praised the bill. Environmental groups said it included some important changes but added that it fell short because it would expand crop insurance subsidies and price guarantees for the largest and most successful farmers while cutting nutrition and conservation programs.