The Senate got off to a resounding bipartisan start to its farm bill debate, voting 89-3 on a procedural motion for the legislation that would maintain the structure of the 2014 farm law while preserving a range of programs that are on the verge of running out of money and legalizing the production of industrial hemp.. 

Behind the scenes, senators have been jockeying for the right to offer a range of amendments including proposals by Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, to tighten commodity program payment rules, and Richard Durbin, D-Ill., to impose a means test on crop insurance premium subsidies. 

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., urged his colleagues to make sure that the bill remains bipartisan. 

“The Agriculture Committee has continued its tradition of addressing the needs of America’s farmers and ranchers with the serious bipartisanship they deserve, and today the needs are great,” McConnell said. 

Facing declining income, “growers and producers need certainty and stability. That’s what this bill would help provide,” McConnell said.

The three senators who voted Monday against cloture on the motion to proceed to the bill were Dean Heller, R-Nev., Mike Lee, R-Utah, and Robert Menendez, D-N.J.

Senators began filing amendments to the bill on Monday, but relatively few amendments are expected to get votes. Lee and Cory Booker, D-N.J., filed an amendment to place new restrictions on research and promotion programs to curb what the senators claim are abuses of the checkoff programs. 

The bipartisan kick-off to the Senate debate stood in marked contrast to the angry, partisan atmosphere in the House, where Republicans pushed through their bill over united opposition from Democrats, who claim that reforms to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program were cruel and unworkable. The House bill failed in May but passed, 213-211, last week after GOP leaders addressed demands by some conservatives to vote first on an unrelated immigration bill. 

The Senate Agriculture Committee approved its bill, 20-1, on June 13 after Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., and ranking Democrat Debbie Stabenow of Michigan reached agreement on a bill that protected commodity programs and crop insurance while funding a number of priorities for Democrats, including funding for organic and local agriculture.

Provisions that legalize hemp and make the crop eligible for crop insurance were included in the bill at McConnell's insistence, increasing his interest in the legislation. 

An amendment sponsored by Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and adopted in committee added mandatory funding for energy programs.

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