The Senate on Tuesday passed the long-awaited farm bill, ending two years of partisan rancor and stalled negotiations and clearing what is expected to be the last hurdle for the nearly $1 trillion spending measure.
The bill was passed with strong bipartisan support, 68 to 32. The legislation now heads to the desk of President Obama, who is expected to sign it.
"Many people said this would never happen in this environment, but Congress has come together to pass a major bipartisan jobs bill," said Senator Debbie Stabenow, Democrat of Michigan and chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee. "This effort proves that by working across party lines, we can save taxpayer money and create smart policies that lay the foundation for a stronger economy."
The nearly 1,000-page bill reauthorizes hundreds of programs for agriculture, dairy production, conservation, nutrition and international food aid.
The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the bill will cost $956 billion and reduce spending on farm subsidies and nutrition by $16.6 billion over the next 10 years. But lawmakers said the savings would be much higher, around $23 billion, when sequestration cuts to agriculture programs were factored in.
Among the biggest changes in the bill are cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly known as food stamps, the expansion of the crop insurance program and the elimination of direct payments to farmers. Direct payments have cost about $5 billion a year, and have been paid to farmers regardless of whether they grew crops.
Spending on the food stamp program will be reduced by about $8 billion over the next decade, and will account for about 1 percent of the total spending in the bill. The reduction in spending will affect about 1.7 million people, who will have their benefits reduced by about $90 a month, according to the budget office. The bill's proponents said the measure closed a loophole exploited by 16 states that helped food stamp recipients get more in benefits than they should have.
But antihunger advocates said the cuts would increase the number of people in need of food, even though the bill adds about $205 million to food banks
"These cuts will be absolutely devastating," said Sheena Wright, the president of the United Way of New York City. "Two hundred million can in no way plug a nearly $9 billion hole."
The bill adds $7 billion to the crop insurance program, a government-backed insurance subsidy that dates to the Dust Bowl. Taxpayers pay about 62 percent of the premiums. Some of the savings from the elimination of direct payments will be added to the crop insurance program. Proponents of the program said it provides a better safety net for farmers and ensures that they get help only in cases when they need it, such as a natural disaster.
So in other words, Agribusiness, who gets the majority of the subsidies, as opposed to small family farmers will get an increase in spending that is almost exactly correlated with the cut in food stamps. My brother gets food stamps. He's already seen a decrease. There is nothing like clearing less than 1000$ a month and being unable to work and having your food budget slashed in favor of giving rich agriculturalists more subsidies.
In an ideal world, we'd consider both as worthwhile, especially if we favored smaller farmers, which would both allow them to better compete and likely help favor the kind of biodiversity that might make us more sustainable in the 21st century. Smaller farmers contribute to the local economy in more substantial ways as well, not relying on large scale labor exploitation. And we'd also think about ways of making sure that people had enough social service money to actually live a reasonably healthy life, instead of punishing the poor for our deficit.
The trouble at its core is that recipients of food stamps don't have a well funded lobby.