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The U.S. Senate passed the farm bill with overwhelming bipartisan support, 66-27. The bill finances programs as diverse as crop insurance for farmers, food assistance for low-income families and foreign food aid. The Senate passed a similar bill last year, but the House failed to bring the bill to a vote. The last farm bill that was passed by both chambers, in 2008, was extended until Sept. 30. The Senate version of the bill does not include sugar reform.
“The Senate voted to support 16 million American jobs, to save taxpayers billions and to implement the most significant reforms to agriculture programs in decades,” states Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee. She was a co-author of the bill with Senator Thad Cochran (R-MS), 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, just one example of how far apart the two houses are in adjusting spending.
But the bill faces a much tougher reception in the House. 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 by about $3.5 billion in the Senate bill, with additional reductions coming from the automatic spending cuts known as the sequester.
The most critical revision 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.
Hoping to satisfy conservatives, the House Agriculture Committee recently increased the amount of cuts to the program to the $20-billion mark over the next 10 years, up from $16 billion in last year’s bill. In a statement before the Senate vote,House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-OH) said the House would begin work on its version of the farm bill this month.
Agriculture generally praised the bill. Environmental groups say it included some important changes but mention that it falls short because it would expand crop insurance subsidies and price guarantees for the largest and most successful farmers, while cutting nutrition and conservation programs.
Source: www.nytimes.com, Independent Bakers Association