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Senate gives final approval to farm bill

Feb. 4, 2014 at 3:48 PM   |   Comments

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WASHINGTON, Feb. 4 (UPI) -- The U.S. Senate gave final approval to the farm bill Tuesday, following House approval last week.

After nearly four years of fighting between Democrats and Republicans, the massive package was unveiled last week and approved by Congress in just a matter of days. It was the first time Congress has approved a new farm bill since 2008.

The $956.4 billion package includes a sweeping overhaul of federal farm and nutrition policies on what farmers grow, how food is packaged and sold and how the government helps the poor pay for their food, the Washington Post reported.

"This bill provides certainty to America's farmers and ranchers, and contains a variety of commonsense reforms that my administration has consistently called for, including reforming and eliminating direct farm subsidies and providing assistance for farmers when they need it most. It will continue reducing our deficits without gutting the vital assistance programs millions of hardworking Americans count on to help put food on the table for their families," President Obama said in a statement after the vote.

The vote in the Senate was 68-32. A liberal group of lawmakers voted against the legislation in opposition to $8 billion in food stamp cuts while some conservatives voted against it because it did not cut them enough, the Post said.

Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., described the agreement as "a major bipartisan jobs bill that makes sure that 16 million people who work in agriculture ... have the support that they need," the newspaper said.

The Post said the 959-page bill ends billions of dollars in direct subsidy payments to farmers. In their place, farmers may take advantage of a new crop insurance program, the newspaper said.

The deal also saves billions by consolidating government conservation programs. Government estimates say it is supposed to cut $16 billion in government spending in the next decade.

The Post said the bill has changes to programs involving environmental regulations on farms, aid to dairy and sheep farmers and the kind of food the U.S. Agriculture Department may buy for the nation's food banks.

Negotiations over the farm bill nearly collapsed in July when House Republican leaders, under Tea Party pressure, split the farm bill and held separate votes, one of which would have slashed $40 billion in food stamps by rewriting eligibility rules.

But House and Senate negotiators eventually agreed to cut about $8 billion -- or 1 percent of the program's budget.

"This is not your father's farm bill," said Stabenow, one of the four principal negotiators of the year-delayed legislation.

The White House said Obama will sign the bill into law when it reaches his desk.

Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., who voted against the bill last week, had urged senators not to pass the bill.

"The losers are the 850,000 low-income households all over America, 1.7 million Americans, who will lose 66 meals a month with this cut to food stamps," she said in a statement.

"Children will go to bed hungry and spend the next day at school unable to concentrate," DeLauro said.

"Veterans and working families will face an empty fridge and a gnawing pain," her statement continued. "Seniors will have to choose between food and warmth. These are our own, hard-working people we are consigning to this fate."

© 2014 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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