WASHINGTON, Feb. 3, 2014 – The Senate approved today, with a 72-22 vote, a procedural motion to advance the five-year farm bill (H.R. 2642) for a final vote on Tuesday.
The nearly $1 trillion Agriculture Act of 2014 would eliminate direct payments in favor of enhanced crop insurance, revise commodity supports, create a new dairy program, and make several other changes to agricultural policy, including an approximate $8 billion cut to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
The motion received the support of 48 Democrats, 22 Republicans, and two Independents, while 21 Republicans and one Democrat – Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., voted against the motion.
The strong bipartisan vote on the Senate motion indicates the chamber will very likely approve final passage. The House approved the bill last Wednesday with a 251-166 vote. President Obama is expected to sign the legislation.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said the legislation would ensure U.S. farms remain the most productive in the world while protecting more than 16 million jobs in the farm industry.
Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., said, before the vote, that the last farm bill expired 490 days ago. “It’s time to get it done. It’s time to pass this tomorrow and to give it to the president for his signature,” Stabenow said.
During her floor speech, Stabenow noted that the bill includes a historic new agreement that ties conservation compliance to crop insurance, and includes major investments in U.S. energy independence.
Further, she said the legislation would support the development of the next generation of biofuels, including new technologies using food and agricultural waste.
Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., stressed that the legislation, including sequestration cuts, is expected to save more than $23 billion.
“How about we go through every other program in government and see how we make it better and reduce spending, because when we do that we’ll have done what we’re talking about here in the farm bill,” Hoeven said. “Seems like a good idea.”
Hoeven said the bill would reduce discretionary spending by 35 percent over five years. “And that’s without counting for inflation,” Hoeven said.
Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D., said that while the bill would reduce the deficit, it also would “continue to feed the hungry, aid livestock producers hit by the blizzard, and enable consumers to know where their food comes from.”
“This conference report certainly isn’t perfect. As with any legislation that is this important and far-reaching, it’s impossible to fully satisfy everybody,” Johnson said. “But this is a reasonable compromise.”
Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., said the bill contains several efforts to reduce the involvement of the federal government in agriculture. Sessions applauded language in the bill that would transition farm subsidies from a system of direct payments to a more market-based crop insurance support program.
“I think many other people who’ve thought about agriculture think that’s the right path to go, and I have supported that,” Sessions said. “It’s fair to say that the elimination of countercyclical and direct payments almost entirely is an historic occasion.”
Still, Sessions voted against the bill, saying that the changes fail to go far enough to reduce the deficit.
Senate President Pro Tempore Pat Leahy, D-Vt., said the bipartisan bill addresses the needs of every region in the nation. Leahy said the bill would eliminate duplicative programs, strengthen natural resources, and provide “long overdue certainty” for farmers to make planting decisions.
“[Farmers] don’t have the luxury that we seem to give to ourselves to wait to the very last second,” Leahy said. “They have to plan months in advance.”
Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., said the bill includes effective farm programs for growers, livestock disaster coverage for ranchers and livestock producers, enhanced crop insurance offerings, and expanded research programs.
In opposition, Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., said the legislation fails to sufficiently reduce spending. “Only in Washington can we claim a bill saves $24 billion when it increases spending over the next 10 years.”
Coburn said the legislation should be called a food security bill, rather than a farm bill, in reference to SNAP funding. “This farm bill is anything but that,” Coburn said. “There’s no response to market forces. There’s no other place in this country where you can go into a business or enterprise and be guaranteed that you revenue is going to be secure.”
Coburn said net farm income was $131 billion last year, for increase of 16.5 percent over the year before.
“And yet we’re going to spend almost $100 billion a year in the future, of which only 18 percent of that will be for agricultural programs outside of the food stamp program,” he said.
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