The U.S. Senate passed a $500 billion, five-year farm bill on Monday that expands a taxpayer-subsidized crop insurance program and rejects sweeping cuts in food stamps for the poor being pursued in the House of Representatives.
The bill passed easily, 66 to 27, and now goes to the Republican-controlled House.
It was the second time in a year that the Senate has sent a five-year farm bill to the Republican-led House, which let the bill die at the end of 2012.
Analysts say food stamp cuts are the legislation's make-or-break issue, given otherwise broad similarities between the two versions.
While the Senate would trim food stamps by $4 billion over a decade, the bill awaiting debate in the House calls for a $20 billion cut, the largest in a generation. Some 2 million people, or 4 percent of enrollment, would lose benefits.
"I do not support what the House is doing, $20 billion (in cuts)," said Senate Agriculture Committee chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, Democrat of Michigan. Still, she was confident the issue would be resolved and "very optimistic" of sending a farm bill to President Barack Obama for enactment.
Agricultural lobbyists and analysts said the Senate vote made a new farm law more likely but not certain this year.
Farm bills are panoramic legislation covering food aid, rural economic development, biofuels development and agricultural research along with crop subsidies, food stamps and conservation.
A bruising fight was possible in the House over food stamps. Some 134 of the 201 Democrats in the House signed a resolution against any cuts. And some Republicans want steeper cuts in farm programs as well as in food stamps, which could jeopardize passage of a bill.
Farm groups in general praised the Senate for completing its version of a farm bill. Bob Stallman, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, issued a statement of support. “We appreciate the Senate’s decision to protect and strengthen the federal crop insurance program and not reduce its funding, as well as the approval of a commodity program that provides farmers varied safety net options,” Stallman said. “This approach to farm policy will encourage farmers to follow market signals rather than basing planting decisions on anticipation of government farm benefits. Most importantly, the program will be viable because the Senate stood firm on a budget savings level of $24 billion.”
House debate on the farm bill is expected this month. Speaker John Boehner on Monday promised "a vigorous and open debate" on the legislation. The National Farmers Union urged Congress to complete work before a stop-gap extension of farm law expires on Sept. 30.