WASHINGTON — The Senate on Monday passed a five-year, half-trillion-dollar farm bill that expands government subsidies for crop insurance, rice and peanuts and makes small cuts to food stamps.
The bill passed on a bipartisan 66-27 vote. The legislation, which costs almost $100 billion annually, would eliminate subsidies that are paid to farmers whether or not they farm. All told, it would save about $2.4 billion a year on the farm and nutrition programs, including across-the-board cuts that took effect earlier this year.
Senate Agriculture Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., said the bill would support 16 million U.S. jobs, save taxpayers billions and put into place "the most significant reforms to agriculture programs in decades." But it still would generously subsidize corn, soybeans, wheat, cotton, rice, sugar and other major crops grown by U.S. farmers.
The legislation would set policy for programs to protect environmentally sensitive land, international food aid and other projects to help rural communities. The Senate passed a similar farm bill last year.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said Monday that his chamber will take up its version of the farm bill this month. Debate in the House is expected to be contentious and much more partisan than in the Senate, with disagreements among the GOP caucus over domestic food aid that makes up almost 80 percent of the bill's cost.
Last year, the House declined to take up the legislation during an election year amid conflict over how much should be cut from the food stamp program, which now serves one in seven U.S. residents and cost almost $80 billion last year. That cost has more than doubled since 2008.
Senators rejected amendments on food stamp cuts, preserving the $400 million annual decrease. The bill's farm-state supporters fended off efforts to cut sugar, tobacco and other farm supports.
Senators looking to pare subsidies did score one victory, an amendment to reduce the government's share of crop insurance premiums for farmers with adjusted gross incomes of more than $750,000.
Currently the government pays for an average 62 percent of crop insurance premiums and subsidizes the companies that sell the insurance. The overall bill expands crop insurance for many crops and creates a program to compensate farmers for smaller, or "shallow," revenue losses before the paid insurance kicks in.
Critics said the bill would subsidize large corporate farms when farm country is in the middle of an economic boom. Scott Faber of the Environmental Working Group, an advocacy group that long has criticized farm subsidies, said the legislation simply would redirect subsidies and "needlessly cut nutrition and conservation programs designed to help the hungry and the environment."