Senate advances massive farm bill

Source: Hannah Northey, E&E reporter • Posted: Tuesday, February 4, 2014

The Senate last night voted to advance the mammoth 2014 farm bill by a 72-22 vote with opposition coming almost entirely from Republicans.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said yesterday that final passage of the legislation, which has already passed the House, could come as early as today.

The vote reflected some support from the GOP, with 24 Republicans voting to limit debate on the bill, as well as 48 Democrats and two independents — although Democratic Sens. Mark Udall of Colorado, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Mark Begich of Alaska and Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia did not vote. Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut was the only Democrat to vote against advancing the legislation.

Senate Agriculture Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), the bill’s co-sponsor, last night hailed the vote as a success.

“Tomorrow, the Senate can enact major reforms to farm programs, end outdated and unnecessary subsidies, and support the transition the American people are already making to a healthier food system,” she said in a statement. “Congress has passed few major deficit reduction bills or major bipartisan jobs bills in recent years. Tomorrow, the Senate can reduce the deficit and help farmers, ranchers and business owners create jobs by passing the 2014 Farm Bill.”

Upon approval, the bill would be sent to President Obama’s desk for his signature, capping off a three-year process of writing and negotiating the legislation.

The House last week voted 251-166 in favor of H.R. 2642. The legislation would reauthorize agriculture and nutrition programs for the next five years.

The legislation has drawn some concerns, namely from conservatives upset by the hefty price tag and some Democrats such as Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York who dislike its $8 billion cut to the national food stamps program (E&E Daily, Feb. 3).

Stabenow noted yesterday on the Senate floor that past versions of the bill were approved by the upper chamber in 2012 and 2013 with strong support.

The farm bill would spend $956 billion over the next decade, with the bulk going toward federal nutrition assistance and the rest split among farm, conservation, energy, forestry, trade and rural development programs. The bill’s most significant reform is the elimination of direct payments, or the subsidies that farmers receive regardless of how much they plant in a given year.

The bill also would tie conservation requirements to crop insurance for the first time since 1996, consolidate 23 conservation programs down to 13, provide renewable energy programs with nearly $900 million in mandatory funding, and extend and expand key Forest Service authorities designed to expedite treatment of fire-prone and diseased forests.

“We’ve streamlined programs; we’ve cut red tape,” Stabenow said on the Senate floor yesterday. “This is not your father’s farm bill.”