By Ramsey Cox
The Senate on Monday approved a five-year farm bill in a 66-27 vote.
More than 15 Republicans joined most Democrats in supporting the bill, which would cut $24 billion from farm spending over 10 years, including a $4 billion reduction to food stamps. Democratic Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (R.I.) and Jack Reed (R.I.) were the only Democrats who voted against the bill.
Before the Senate vote, Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) touted her bill as supporting U.S. jobs while also reducing the deficit.
The Senate passed a similar bill last year, but it was never enacted as the House failed to take up farm legislation.
Stabenow said she hopes that House leaders will allow a floor vote on a farm bill this year.
“Hopefully the House this time will complete this work and we’ll have an opportunity to go to conference,” Stabenow said. “The House, in my opinion, walked away from rural America last year.”
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. House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) crafted the bill, which 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 in a conference committee.
The current farm bill expires Sept. 30, and lawmakers hope to reach agreement on a new bill before the August recess.
“[The Senate version] is a bill that will send the message to the American people that we need to provide a certainty once and for all and do things in a timely fashion,” Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) said Monday.
The White House supports the Senate farm bill, S. 954, 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 considered several amendments to the bill. The final amendment passed on a 48-38 vote Monday, ahead of final passage. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) introduced the measure, which would set up a five-year pilot program for high-speed Internet projects in rural areas. He said the Internet is no longer “a luxury but a necessity” for all communities.
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.