WASHINGTON (AP) - The Senate is poised to pass a five-year,
half-trillion-dollar farm bill Monday that would expand government
subsidies for crop insurance, rice and peanuts while making small cuts
in the food stamp program.
The bill, which costs almost $100 billion annually,
also would eliminate subsidies that are paid to farmers whether they
farm or not. All told, it would save about $2.4 billion a year on the
farm and nutrition programs, including across-the-board cuts that took
effect earlier this year.
Pointing to those cuts, Senate Agriculture
Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., says the legislation is the "most
reform-minded farm bill in decades." But it would still generously
subsidize corn, soybeans, wheat, cotton, rice, sugar and other major
crops grown by U.S. farmers. It would also set policy for programs to
protect environmentally sensitive land, international food aid and other
projects to help rural communities.
The Senate passed a similar farm bill last year on a bipartisan 64-35 vote.
The House is expected to take up its own version of
the farm bill as early as this month, in what could be a contentious
and much more partisan floor fight over domestic food aid, which makes
up almost 80 percent of the bill's cost. Last year, the House declined
to take up the legislation during an election year and amid
disagreements over how much should be cut from the food stamp program,
which now serves one in seven Americans and cost almost $80 billion last
year. That cost has more than doubled since 2008.
The bill approved by the House Agriculture
Committee last month would make much larger cuts to food stamps than the
Senate version, in a bid to gain support from those House conservatives
who have opposed the measure. The Senate bill would cut the food stamp
program, now known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or
SNAP, by about $400 million a year, or half a percent. The House bill
would cut the program by $2 billion a year, or a little more than 3
percent, and make it more difficult for some people to qualify.
The Senate rejected amendments on food stamp cuts,
preserving the $400 million annual decrease. The bill's farm-state
supporters also fended off efforts to cut sugar, tobacco and other farm
Senators looking to pare back subsidies did win one
victory on the Senate, an amendment to reduce the government's share of
crop insurance premiums for farmers with adjusted gross incomes of more
than $750,000. Sens. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and Tom Coburn, R-Okla., said
their amendment would affect about 20,000 farmers.
Stabenow argued the amendment would result in fewer
people buying insurance and undercut a separate provision in the bill
that would require farmers buying crop insurance to comply with certain
environmental standards on their land.
Currently the government pays for an average 62
percent of crop insurance premiums and also subsidizes the companies
that sell the insurance. The overall bill expands crop insurance for
many crops and also creates a program to compensate farmers for smaller,
or "shallow," revenue losses before the paid insurance kicks in.
The crop insurance expansion is likely to benefit
Midwestern corn and soybean farmers, who use crop insurance more than
other farmers. The bill would also boost subsidies for Southern rice and
peanut farmers, lowering the threshold for those farms to receive
The help for rice and peanuts was not in last
year's bill but was added this year after the agriculture panel gained a
new top Republican, Mississippi Sen. Thad Cochran. Critics, including
the former top Republican on the committee, Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts,
said the new policy could guarantee that the rice and peanut farmers'
profits are average or above average.
The bill also would:
- Overhaul dairy policy by creating a new insurance
program for dairy producers, eliminating other dairy subsidies and
price supports. The new policy includes a market stabilization program
that could dictate production cuts when oversupply drives down prices.
The program faced little opposition in the Senate but a similar overhaul
in the House bill is expected to face resistance in that chamber, where
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, has called the new stabilization
- Make modest changes to the way international food
aid is delivered, a much scaled-back version of an overhaul proposed by
President Barack Obama earlier this year. Senators adopted an amendment
that would slightly boost dollars to buy locally-grown food close to
needy areas abroad. Currently, most food aid is grown in the United
States and shipped to developing countries, an approach the Obama
administration says is inefficient but that has support among farm-state
members in Congress.
- Consolidate programs to protect environmentally-sensitive land and reduce spending on those programs.
- Expand Agriculture Department efforts to prevent illegal trafficking of food stamp benefits.
Wednesday, December 4 2013 6:10 PM EST2013-12-04 23:10:52 GMT
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