“The bill passes 64-35”
The U.S. Senate approved its version of a 5-year, $500 billion Farm Bill Thursday, cutting agricultural subsidies and land conservation spending by about $2 billion per year.
As expected, the bill would eliminate direct payments to farmers. The fate of those payments, which amount to about $5 billion per year, has virtually been assured for months due to the cavernous federal deficit.
But the measure would largely protect some 46 million citizens relying on the supplemental food assistance program, formerly known as food stamps.
Sugar producers also would be spared from much of the fiscal carnage. A federal program controlling sugar supplies, setting prices and limiting imports, has long been a target of those who say the government supports agribusiness over the interests of consumers.
Lawmakers tacked on 73 amendments to the bill. But other, more controversial modifications failed to win approval. They included language that would have stopped aerial inspections of agricultural operations by the EPA; and an amendment allowing states to require clear labels on any food or beverage containing genetically engineered ingredients.
Senate leaders considered the Farm Bill’s approval a major victory due to its bipartisan tone and -- more importantly this election year -- because of the legislation’s considerable savings: which are estimated at more than $24 billion over the next decade.
Sen. Pat Roberts, R – Kansas: “This is a good bill. Is it the best possible, bill? No. It is the best bill possible."
While the “Food, Farm and Jobs Bill,” would eliminate direct payments, crop insurance now is expected to play a greater role in the “safety net” for farmers.
Three-fourths of the bill’s spending is devoted to nutrition programs to assist children and the poor. In the wake of the worst economic downturn since The Great Depression, nutrition assistance spending has exploded and could amount to $97 billion per year over the next decade.
Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D – MI: "Agriculture is one of the few parts of our economy where we're running a trade surplus, and we need to recognize that's also a job creator. The men and women who work hard from sunrise to sunset to give us the bounty of safe, nutritious food that we put on our tables, today they deserve this certainly of this bill."
The focus now shifts to the other chamber of Congress where the fate of the Farm Bill is less certain. The House version of the measure still has not emerged from committee, but fiscal hawks are expected to seek deeper cuts in many areas, including food assistance.