Policy: Entitlements

Farm bill moves forward in Senate with final passage expected Tuesday

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Politics,Congress,Susan Ferrechio,Senate,Entitlements,PennAve,Farm Bill,Budgets and Deficits

The Senate moved forward Monday on long-awaited legislation to authorize farm spending, voting to end debate on the measure so that the chamber can vote on final passage Tuesday.

Two years in the making, the $1 trillion bill ends a decades-old policy of providing taxpayer subsidies directly to farmers.

The five-year plan cuts spending by $16.6 trillion over a decade, including an $800 million annual reduction to the food stamp program.

The vote was 72-22, and included opposition from Republicans who wanted deeper cuts and Democrats who opposed the food stamp reduction.

The House approved the measure last week by a bipartisan 251-166 vote.

President Obama, who opposes food stamp cuts, has not stated firmly if he backs the bill, but spokesman Jay Carney has suggested he'll sign it.

According to Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich, head of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, the farm bill will ultimately cut $23 billion from the national deficit while reforming many of the antiquated and duplicative agricultural programs.

“This is a new kind of farm bill designed to meet the challenge of a changing world,” Stabenow said.

New elements in the bill include an expanded crop insurance program that will include organic farmers, more money for the development of biofuels and expanded funding for farmers markets.

More than 100 programs were eliminated, including the direct subsidies, which cost taxpayers nearly $5 billion annually and are frequently awarded to people who do not farm the land.

The cuts were enough to satisfy some of the staunchest debt-reduction advocates in the Senate, including Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., the top Republican on the Senate Budget Committee.

“This legislation does make a number of positive reforms over the long term and should help reduce government involvement in agriculture,” Sessions said before the vote.

But watchdog groups and fiscally conservative think tanks said despite the cuts, the bill remained full of wasteful spending.

Ryan Alexander, president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, pointed out that the farm bill increases spending by 50 percent over the last version of the legislation and realizes most of its savings only if the cuts are left in place long beyond the expiration of the bill.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who voted against the bill, called it a “monstrosity” that could cost taxpayers up to $14 billion each year just to pay for for the new crop insurance program.

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