MARY CLARE JALONICK
Associated Press WASHINGTON (AP) - The Senate voted Thursday to move forward on a wide-ranging, five-year farm bill. The legislation advanced on a 75-22 procedural vote that sets up a vote to pass the measure next Monday. The bill would cost almost $100 billion annually and would set policy for farm subsidies, food stamps and other farm and food aid programs.
This will be the second time the Senate has voted on the farm bill. The chamber passed the legislation last year, but the House did not take it up. This year, Republican leaders have said the House will vote on the bill, possibly as soon as this month. The Senate legislation would eliminate some subsidies paid to farmers whether they grow crops or not and would make a small cut to food stamps - about $400 million a year out of the program's almost $80 billion annual cost, or about half of a percent. The bill would also create new subsidy programs for Midwestern and Southern farmers. The farm bill approved by the House Agriculture Committee last month makes similar changes to farm programs but would make much larger cuts to food stamps, now known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. The House version would cut five times as much from the program as the Senate and tighten some eligibility rules. Food stamps have for decades been part of the farm bill in a bid by rural lawmakers to gain urban votes for the measure. But this year, food stamps have made passage more difficult. Conservatives in the House have argued that the program, which has doubled in cost since 2008, needs an overhaul. Senate Democrats have been reluctant to touch it. Last year more around 47 million people used SNAP. The rolls rose rapidly because of the economic downturn, rising food prices and expanded eligibility under the 2009 economic stimulus law.