Senate votes 75-22 to end debate on farm bill

The Senate voted 75-22 on Thursday to end debate on a five-year farm bill, clearing way for passage of the legislation next week.

The bill would cut $24 billion from farm spending over 10 years, including a $4 billion reduction to food stamps. Final votes on the bill are likely to occur on Monday before the Senate pivots to immigration reform.

Aides said farm bill amendment votes could still come later Thursday if a final agreement can be struck to vote on a limited number of changes. They were hopeful that having the clock running toward final passage would pressure members to drop many of their amendment requests.

Before the Senate vote on Thursday, Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) touted her bill as supporting 16 million U.S. jobs.

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"I don’t think there will be a single bill on this floor that affects more jobs than this one," Stabenow said. "This is an opportunity to cut spending by more than $24 billion."

More than 20 Republicans joined Democrats in advancing the bill. A similar farm bill passed last year on a 64-35 vote, but the House failed to take up its own farm bill.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said he hopes that House leaders will allow a floor vote on the Senate farm bill this year.

“Congress must pass a strong farm bill and do it quickly,” Reid said ahead of the vote. “I am optimistic and hopeful that we will advance this bill.”

The House is working on a rival, $940 billion farm bill that cuts spending by $39.7 billion over 10 years, with $20.5 billion of the cuts coming food stamps. The House bill will likely get a floor vote later this month.

Democrats are firmly against the food stamp cuts in the House farm bill, and the differences between the two versions might be difficult to bridge.

The White House supports the Senate farm bill, which shifts farm subsidies away from direct payments to farmers and toward expanded crop insurance. The bill also ties crop insurance subsidies to compliance of environmental standards.

The Senate passed an amendment before the Memorial Day recess that reduces crop insurance subsidies by 15 percent for those making more than $750,000 per year. The amendment passed despite the opposition of Stabenow and ranking member Thad Cochran (R-Miss.). The House draft farm bill does not have such a limitation.

“We need to pass this bill. It provides a framework for farmers and ranchers to better manage their risks,” Cochran said. “This bill reflects a real sense of fiscal responsibility yet still provides a safety net.”

Stabenow said more amendment votes are possible post-cloture. The bill is expected to have wide bipartisan support, as it did last time.

Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), who opposed cloture, said the GOP amendments he was fighting for would have no chance of votes.

Roberts was ranking member on the Agriculture committee when the Senate passed a farm bill last year that never made it into law. That bill did not contain targeted price subsidies favored by southern crop producers and opposed by Roberts.

"Last year we had 73 amendment votes and over 300 files. We followed regular order and that is what should have happened here," Roberts said after the cloture vote.

The GOP had also been pushing amendments to lower the cost of crop insurance in the bill, as well as further trims to food stamps.

— This story was last updated at 11:15 a.m.