WASHINGTON — The Senate gave final legislative approval Tuesday to a five-year farm bill aimed at reforming crop subsidy programs and extending food aid to low-income Americans.
The bill passed 68 to 32, and President Barack Obama plans is planning to sign it. Obama said Tuesday that the legislation “will build on the historic economic gains in rural America over the past five years, create new jobs and opportunities and protect the most vulnerable Americans.”
Supporters praised the bill's elimination of guaranteed cash payments to some farmers regardless of whether crop prices are high, and even whether a crop was planted. The emphasis will now shift more to crop insurance, though new programs were added to protect farm income.
Both Oklahoma senators opposed the measure.
The senators' votes — combined with the Oklahoma members' votes in the House last week — marked the first time in nearly 30 years that a majority of the Oklahoma delegation opposed a farm bill; there have been six different farm bills in that span.
The last time was in 1985, when the delegation voted unanimously against that year's farm bill, complaining that it would result in crop surpluses that would drive down prices.
On the new farm bill, which carries a 10-year price tag of nearly $1 trillion, four Oklahoma lawmakers voted in opposition, with three in support.
Inhofe opposes food stamp costs
Some of the Oklahoma lawmakers voting against the bill raised concerns about farm subsidies, but all complained about the amount of money going to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as food stamps. Nearly 80 percent of the bill's cost will go to food stamps.
Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Tulsa, said Tuesday that there were not enough food stamp savings in the bill. The Senate did not adopt his amendment to cut $300 billion from the program over 10 years and allow states to shape their own services, and Inhofe called the $8 billion in projected food stamp savings “meager.”
“The continued explosion of entitlement programs is simply unsustainable,” the senator said.
Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Muskogee, objected to the food stamp spending levels but spent more time this week complaining about taxpayer subsidies to farmers.
“Do you know anywhere else where you can get your revenue on your crops guaranteed at 86 percent and the federal taxpayer is paying most of the cost of the insurance for that?” Coburn said in a speech on Monday.
Coburn and Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., had an amendment approved that would limit crop insurance subsidies to farmers making $750,000 or more a year, but that was stripped out of the final version.
Durbin said Tuesday that some Republicans wanted to slash food stamps but wouldn't reduce taxpayer crop insurance subsidies to wealthy producers.
“That's upside down,” Durbin said.
“That doesn't reflect the values of this country or the priorities we need to face.”
Rep. Frank Lucas, the Oklahoma Republican who leads the House Agriculture Committee and fought for more than two years to get the farm bill passed, said Tuesday that the goal of the legislation was “to give certainty and sound policy to our agricultural producers; deliver taxpayers billions of dollars in savings; and provide consumers the affordable and reliable food supply they have grown accustomed to.”