Senate advances farm bill

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The chamber voted 90-8 on a cloture vote on a motion to proceed to the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2012 (S. 3240). Republican Sens. Tom Coburn (Okla.), John Cornyn (Texas), Jim DeMint (S.C.), Orrin Hatch (Utah), Dean Heller (Nev.), James Inhofe (Okla.), Ron Johnson (Wis.) and Mike Lee (Utah) voted against the motion. The bill needed 60 votes to advance.

"We’ve performed our duty to taxpayers by cutting deficit spending while at the same time strengthening and preserving the programs so important to agriculture and rural America," Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), who co-sponsored the bill, said after the vote. "We’ve cut mandatory spending by $23.6 billion. We’ve reformed, eliminated and streamlined USDA programs to the tune of more than 100 programs and authorizations eliminated. We’ve done it on a voluntary basis and in a bipartisan fashion. Simply put, this bill is common-sense reform and needs to be approved now to provide certainty for our farmers and ranchers to make planning decisions and to help our economic recovery."

Both Democrats and Republicans have expressed support for the bill, which ends direct payments to farmers based on historical production. Under that payment system, farmers who don't grow crops anymore can still receive money. The question going forward now is whether legislators will be able to agree on how many and which amendments to consider adding to the bill. Agreements on amendments have been a deciding factor for movement on recent legislation in the Senate. If Senate Republicans and Democrats cannot agree on how many and which amendments to consider, the legislation is likely to stall in the chamber.

In the days before the vote, senators began introducing amendments, some of which were not directly related to the farm bill, like an amendment by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) cutting off aid to Pakistan until a doctor who helped the CIA find Osama bin Laden is released from prison. Another amendment, by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), blocks cuts to food stamps included in the farm bill.

Prior to the vote, Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), who sponsored the farm bill, said that unrelated amendments did not belong in the legislation.

"Amendments that have nothing to do with agriculture do not belong in the farm bill and delay the Senate’s ability to get its job done," Stabenow said ahead of the vote.

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