Senate advances $956 billion farm bill

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The Senate voted to end debate Monday on a $956 billion farm bill, clearing its way to President Obama’s desk after three years of struggles.
 
The Senate voted 72-22 to end debate and proceed on the five-year bill, which authorizes agriculture subsidies and food stamps. Final passage is expected to come after 2 p.m. on Tuesday.
 
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The House previously approved the bill in a 251-166 vote last week.
 
Obama is expected to sign the bill into law, even though it reduces farm subsidy payments by less than what he had sought.
 
The bill would save $16.6 billion in spending over 10 years, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
 
A majority of the spending in the bill is for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), known widely as food stamps. The original House proposal would have cut $39 billion from the food stamps program, while the Senate-passed bill called for a $4 billion cut.
 
Conferees settled on cutting SNAP by $8 billion by requiring households to receive at least $20 per year in home heating assistance before they automatically qualify for food stamps, instead of the $1 threshold now in place in some states.
 
The biggest change to farm subsidies is the end of direct farm payments to individuals based on historic farm production. The direct subsidies were adopted in the 1990s in part because they do not distort trade by spurring new planting, but they have become controversial because non-farmers can get them.
 
The new bill melds previous proposals in the House and Senate bills and drops an approach the Senate sought in 2012 to move entirely to a revenue-based insurance program. That program was favored by corn and soy farmers but did not work for peanut and rice producers who demanded target-price-based support.
 
The final bill offers producers a choice between revenue- and price-triggered supports.
 
Negotiators weakened some payment limit provisions contained in both the House and Senate farm bills. The limits are now capped at $125,000 per individual, or $250,000 per couple, but caps within that total for specific kinds of payments have been removed.
 
An overall income cap for receiving crop insurance was also removed; critics say the final bill does not do enough to close a loophole that could allow large farming operations to win more subsidies by claiming additional people are actively engaged in farming.
 
Critics of the language, including Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), argue the language lets people qualify for farm subsidies even though they are not doing any labor and have looser connections to a specific farm.
 
Also missing is a requirement that lawmakers disclose the crop insurance help they themselves get from the government.
 
Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), an opponent of price supports, and Grassley, the author of stronger payment limits, said they opposed the bill.
 
“Subsidizing large farmers to get larger in my view is just wrong,” Grassley said. “The American people should not be forced to subsidize the income of those farmers making upward of $1 million a year.”
 
The full spectrum of farm lobbyists have pushed for passage of the final bill, with the notable exception of the meat industry. Meat processors are angry that the bill does not end meat labeling requirements and new regulations on purchasing.
 
Conservative groups such as Club for Growth and Heritage Action key-voted against the bill — H.R. 2642. They were joined by anti-hunger groups and some environmentalists in opposition. 

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