The Senate overwhelmingly approved the new farm bill Tuesday, sending it to the House for a final vote.
The 87-13 vote represented the largest Senate majority for a farm bill on record, said Sen. Debbie Stabenow, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Agriculture Committee. The Senate version of the bill had passed in June, 86-11. All 13 votes against the bill on Tuesday came from Republicans.
A final House vote was scheduled for Wednesday afternoon.
House Agriculture Chairman Mike Conaway, R-Texas, and Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue met with House Republicans Tuesday morning and urged them to support the bill despite the misgivings many conservatives have about the lack of tighter work requirements for food stamp recipients.
Perdue "did a good job of helping convince folks that he can help with this" issue, Conaway told Agri-Pulse, referring to a pending USDA rule that would make it harder for states to get waivers from the existing work rules.
Stabenow told reporters that the Senate decided to take up the farm bill conference report first because no senator objected to holding the vote. Otherwise, the vote could have been delayed by a legislative process that can take several days.
The bill “reflects a hard-fought bipartisan agreement on a five-year bill to strengthen the diversity of American agriculture," Stabenow told her colleagues just before the vote.
Stabenow fought for provisions that expanded farm bill assistance to urban agriculture, organic producers and others outside the conventional farm sector. The legislation will legalize industrial hemp, a top priority for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.
“Now more than ever we need to broaden the diversity of American agriculture,” she said.
Senate Agriculture Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., worked with Stabenow to resist House GOP efforts to tighten the work requirements on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and ensure the bill had broad Senate support.
Roberts argued throughout the process of developing the bill that the legislation was critical to producers because of the uncertainty created by President Donald Trump’s trade policies.
“Let us tell those farmers and ranchers and growers that are going through tough times they’re going to be good for the next five years,” Roberts told colleagues just before the vote started.
In the end, he couldn’t win over a Republican colleague, Sen. Chuck Grassley, who was unhappy that the negotiators dropped his provisions to tighten payment eligibility rules. Roberts talked to Grassley on the Senate floor, but the Iowan voted against the bill.
After the mid-afternoon Senate vote was scheduled, the House Rules Committee delayed until Tuesday night a meeting to approve its rule for floor debate. A spokeswoman for House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said the committee had to wait for the bill to be physically sent to the House. The House was scheduled to debate the rule on Wednesday with a final vote on the bill later in the afternoon.
(Updated Wednesday morning.)
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