Senate sends farm bill to Obama

Published on NewsOK Modified: February 4, 2014 at 3:40 pm •  Published: February 4, 2014
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Conservatives remained unhappy with the bill.

"It's mind-boggling, the sum of money that's spent on farm subsidies, duplicative nutrition and development assistance programs, and special interest pet projects," said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. "How are we supposed to restore the confidence of the American people with this monstrosity?"

McCain pointed to grants and subsidies for sheep marketing, for sushi rice, for the maple syrup industry.

The $800 million-a-year savings in the food stamp program would come from cracking down on some states that seek to boost individual food stamp benefits by giving people small amounts of federal heating assistance that they don't need. That heating assistance, sometimes as low as $1 per person, triggers higher benefits, and some critics see that practice as circumventing the law. The compromise bill would require states to give individual recipients at least $20 in heating assistance before a higher food stamp benefit could kick in.

Some Democrats still objected to the cuts, even though they are much lower than what the House had sought. The Senate-passed farm bill had a $400 million annual cut to food stamps.

"This bill will result in less food on the table for children, seniors and veterans who deserve better from this Congress, while corporations continue to receive guaranteed federal handouts," Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., said. "I cannot vote for it."

Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, a longtime member of the Agriculture Committee, also voted against the bill. He cited provisions passed by the Senate and taken out of the final bill that would have reduced the number of people associated with one farm who can collect farm subsidies. Grassley has for years fought to lower subsidies to the wealthiest farmers.

The bill does have a stricter cap on the overall amount of money an individual farmer can receive — $125,000 in a year, when some programs were previously unrestricted. But the legislation otherwise continues a generous level of subsidies for farmers.

In place of the direct payments, farmers of major row crops — mostly corn, soybeans, wheat and rice — would now be able to choose between subsidies that pay out when revenue drops or when prices drop. Cotton and dairy supports were overhauled to similarly pay out when farmers have losses. Those programs may kick in sooner than expected as some crop prices have started to drop in recent months.

The bill would save around $1.65 billion annually overall. But critics said that under the new insurance-style programs, those savings could disappear if the weather or the market doesn't cooperate.

Craig Cox of the Environmental Working Group, an organization that has fought for subsidy reform for several years, said replacing the direct payments with the new programs is simply a "bait and switch."

"The potential for really big payoffs" is huge, he said

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Follow Mary Clare Jalonick on Twitter: http://twitter.com/mcjalonick



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