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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WASHINGTON (AP) — The sweeping farm bill that Congress sent to President Obama Tuesday has something for almost everyone, from the nation's 47 million food stamp recipients to Southern peanut growers, Midwest corn farmers and the maple syrup industry in the Northeast.

After years of setbacks, the Senate on Tuesday sent the nearly $100 billion-a-year measure to President Barack Obama. The White House said the president will sign the bill on Friday in Michigan, the home state of Senate Agriculture Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow.

The Senate passed the bill 68-32 after House passage last week. The bill provides a financial cushion for farmers who face unpredictable weather and market conditions. It also provides subsidies for rural communities and environmentally-sensitive land. But the bulk of its cost is for the food stamp program, which aids 1 in 7 Americans. The bill would cut food stamps by $800 million a year, or around 1 percent.

House Republicans had hoped to reduce the bill's costs even further, pointing to a booming agriculture sector in recent years and arguing that the now $80 billion-a-year food stamp program has spiraled out of control. The House passed a bill in September that would have made a cut to food stamps that was five times more than the eventual cut.

Those partisan disagreements stalled the bill for more than two years, but conservatives were eventually outnumbered as the Democratic Senate, the White House and a still-powerful bipartisan coalition of farm-state lawmakers pushed to get the bill done.

The White House has been mostly quiet as Congress worked out its differences on the bill. But in a statement after the vote, Obama said the bill would reduce the deficit "without gutting the vital assistance programs millions of hardworking Americans count on to help put food on the table for their families."

He said the farm bill isn't perfect, "but on the whole, it will make a positive difference not only for the rural economies that grow America's food, but for our nation."

Obama praised the bill for getting rid of controversial subsidies known as direct payments, which are paid to farmers whether they farm or not. Most of that program's $4.5 billion annual cost was redirected into new, more politically defensible subsidies that would kick in when a farmer has losses.

To gather votes for the bill, Stabenow and her House counterpart, Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Okla., included a major boost for crop insurance popular in the Midwest, higher subsidies for Southern rice and peanut farmers and land payments for Western states. The bill also sets policy for hundreds of smaller programs, subsidies, loans and grants — from research on wool to loans for honey producers to protections for the catfish industry. The bill would provide assistance for rural Internet services and boost organic agriculture.

Stabenow said the bill is also intended to help consumers, boosting farmers markets and encouraging local food production.

"We worked long and hard to make sure that policies worked for every region of the country, for all of the different kinds of agricultural production we do in our country," she said.

The regional incentives scattered throughout the bill helped it pass easily in the House last week, 251-166. House leaders who had objected to the legislation since 2011 softened their disapproval as they sought to put the long-stalled bill behind them. Leaders in both parties also have hoped to bolster rural candidates in this year's midterm elections.

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