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Farm Bill Clears Last Big Hurdle

After two years of partisan skirmishing, both chambers of the U.S Congress have approved a sweeping farm bill.

The U.S. Capitol peeks through a bed of flowers

Photo: Randy Pertiet (flickr)

The U.S. Senate approved a 5-year farm bill, clearing the last hurdle in a long fight over key agriculture and nutrition legislation.

At Long Last

The Senate on Tuesday voted 68 to 32 in favor of the 5-year bill, opening the way for President Barack Obama to sign the $1 trillion measure into law.

In a statement, US Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said the legislation would achieve “meaningful reform and billions of dollars in savings for the taxpayer.”

“While no legislation is perfect, this bill is a strong investment in American agriculture and supports the continued global leadership of our farmers and ranchers,” he said.

The bill includes provisions for a broad range of agriculture programs, including dairy farming, land conservation and scaled-back food assistance for low-income Americans.

The Congressional Budget Office said the bill would reduce spending by $16.6 billion over the next decade.

Savings Questioned

But critics of the bill said reforms fell short.

Cuts in unpopular direct subsidies to farmers were offset with crop insurance programs, which watchdogs said could actually increase the overall cost to taxpayers. Dan Smith with the US Public Interest Research Groups called the move “political slight of hand” that would “continue to give handouts to large agribusinesses that don’t need our tax dollars.”

A study commissioned by the Environmental Working Group found that the new program could cost taxpayers $20 billion more than direct payments over the next 10 years if prices fell, and increases crop insurance by nearly $6 billion by allowing farm businesses to guarantee revenue.

“It is unfortunate the savings from ending direct payments will be plowed into the badly bloated crop insurance program, instead of helping to achieve real reforms that could have helped the neediest Americans and better protected our land and water,” said Craig Cox, the group’s senior vice president for agriculture and natural resources, in a statement.

The groups also blasted Congress for failing to place caps on insurance payments.

“Since 1995, just 4 percent of agribusinesses have made off with three quarters of the subsidies,” Smith said. “Yet the bill does next to nothing to reduce or eliminate subsidies for agribusinesses with high incomes.”

Read More:

  • Senate Passes Long-Stalled Farm Bill (New York Times)
  • Congress Approves Five-Year Farm Bill (Politico)
  • Congress Sends Five-Year Farm Bill To White House (NPR)
Chad Bouchard

Chad Bouchard is a veteran reporter and WFIU alum who has covered wild and wooly beats from Indonesia to Capitol Hill. His radio work has aired on NPR, PRI and Voice of America, and his writing has appeared in The Sunday Telegraph and Scientific American’s health magazine, Lives. He has also spent a lifetime gardening, foraging and eating weird stuff.

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