Senate makes progress on potential farm bill
By JIM ABRAMS
WASHINGTON -- The Senate late Monday broke a deadlock that had threatened to bring down a half-trillion-dollar farm and food bill, setting the stage for expected passage of the measure later this week.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced a list of 73 amendments that were acceptable to both parties. That was out of the approximately 300 proposed amendments to the measure, a 1,000-page bill that will set farm policy during the next five years and provide nearly $80 billion a year for the federal food stamp program.
The two parties had negotiated for days on a package of allowable amendments, with the main sticking point being amendments concerning such issues as foreign policy and budgetary matters that were unrelated to the farm bill.
The Senate will start voting on the amendments today, with much of the attention centered on proposals to cut food stamp spending or put limits on subsidies offered farmers for crop insurance.
The farm bill differs significantly from past farm policy in eliminating direct payments to farmers even when they don't plant crops, and instead stressing crop insurance and a new program that compensates growers for revenue losses.
Senate Agriculture Committee chairman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., said the bill will save $23.6 billion during the next decade by ending direct payments, consolidating conservation programs and eliminating abuses in the food stamp program.
"This farm bill is unlike any other before it," she said. "It cuts spending, ends subsidies, improves accountability and strengthens healthy food systems. We are now closer than ever to achieving real reform in America's agriculture policy."
Even with Senate passage, the bill could face an uphill battle in the House, where conservative opposition to farm bill spending is high. The House Agriculture Committee has been waiting for the Senate to act before moving ahead with its version.
The House also is expected to be more sympathetic to Southern rice and peanut farmers who rely more heavily on direct payments and want changes in the Senate safety net provisions.
The current farm bill expires at the end of September.