Congress has passed a farm bill, finally.
The Senate voted 68 to 32 to approve a five-year farm bill approved earlier by the House. It now goes to President Barack Obama who is expected to sign it.
It took a while to get to this point. In fact, it took nearly four years. The Senate actually had passed a farm bill twice before. The House had hung up over the food stamp program, but finally settled on a compromise that cuts $8 billion from food stamps over the next decade, a far lower figure than the House initially approved.
The measure totals $956.4 billion. It takes up nearly a thousand pages.
Sen. Deb Fischer said during a speech from the Senate floor it isn’t a perfect bill, but a bill farmers in Nebraska can live with. Fischer joined with the majority in approving the bill.
Fischer told colleagues she’s glad the bill saves money by cutting commodity programs and the food stamp program.
“While these are all steps in the right direction, it is disappointing that the bill will not achieve additional savings from nutrition programs, which are projected to cost more than $756 billion over the next decade,” Fischer stated.
Conservatives complain the food stamp program has grown beyond the supplemental nutrition program it is meant to be. They note several states have taken advantage of rules in the federal program to leverage more food stamp dollars in an effort to bolster their economies.
Others have claimed the cuts will hurt families dependent on the nutrition portion of the farm bill.
Fischer praised the bill’s shift from direct farm payments to a program of risk management.
“I’m pleased that this farm bill maintains and strengthens one of the most important risk management tools for our farmers, and that is crop insurance,” Fischer stated.
Fischer said she supported the bill, despite its flaws.
“As I said, this bill is not perfect, but on balance this farm bill goes a long way in promoting opportunity and providing certainty for both producers and consumers.”
Farm Bureau President Steve Nelson expressed much the same sentiment during a conference call with reporters after the Senate approved the bill.
“This is not a perfect farm bill. However, this is not a Nebraska-only farm bill, but a farm bill for all of America,” Nelson said. “As a result, there are many interests engaged in these policy discussions and what was passed today is very much a reflection of the diverse interests in the form of a Congressional compromise.”
Farm bills have passed without much controversy in the past. Nelson predicts it will become more difficult to separate politics from farm bill legislation in the future.
Tom Steever, Brownfield Ag News, contributed to this report.
AUDIO: Sen. Deb Fischer delivers Senate floor speech on the Farm Bill. [8 1/2 minutes]