As expected, the Senate passed its version of the farm bill last week by a vote of 66 to 27. According to government math, the bill would save $24 billion over 10 years compared to what will be spent if current laws are left in place.
The key provisions included in the Senate bill have been discussed before, including elimination of direct payments, creation of a shallow loss program, a new dairy program based on margins and a link between conservation compliance and crop insurance premium subsidies.
Now the focus turns to the House, where the version passed by the House Ag Committee will be debated. The fate of the farm bill in the House is far from certain, with strong divisions over food stamps and dairy policy reforms. But it looks like a House farm bill will at least be debated; something that did not happen in 2012.
The Senate now turns to an immigration reform bill with important provisions for agriculture.
The Senate voted to begin debate on the bill last Tuesday, and that debate is expected to last through most of this month. It will take 60 votes to pass the immigration bill, and several senators say there will need to be major changes to the bill before they can support it.
Still, the chances for passage of an immigration bill this year look positive.
There is an effort in the House of Representatives to separate food and nutrition programs from commodity support programs this year. But about 80 percent of the funds included in the farm bill proposal go to food and nutrition programs, so disagreements over this part of the bill could derail passage of the entire bill.
At least this time around differences over the commodity support programs appear much less divisive than differences over food stamps. Still, efforts to break up the farm bill into separate components at this stage will probably fail.
The debate over the food stamp program funding is expected to be spirited in the House, with many conservative members saying the cuts of $20 billion over 10 years (about 3 percent) are too small while House liberals argue that the nutrition programs shouldn’t be cut at all – or at least not that much.
The recently-passed Senate bill trims the food stamp program by just $4 billion over 10 years. If Congress can’t pass a farm bill, funding for food stamps is not reduced at all. Currently about 45 million Americans receive food stamp benefits.