The U.S. Senate on June 10 passed a five-year, half-trillion-dollar farm bill on a bipartisan 66-27 vote.
The bill expands government subsidies for crop insurance, rice and peanuts while making small cuts to food stamps. The legislation is estimated to save about $2.4 billion a year on farm and nutrition programs, including across-the-board cuts that took effect earlier in 2013.
Senate Agriculture Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., said the bill will support 16 million American jobs, save taxpayers billions and put into place "the most significant reforms to agriculture programs in decades." But it would still generously subsidize corn, soybeans, wheat, cotton, rice, sugar and other major crops grown by U.S. farmers. The legislation, similar to a bill the Senate passed in 2012, will also set policy for programs to protect environmentally sensitive land, international food aid and other projects to help rural communities.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, told the Associated Press his chamber will take up its version of the farm bill later in June. Debate in the House is expected to be contentious and much more partisan than in the Senate, with disagreements over domestic food aid that makes up almost 80 percent of the bill's cost.
In 2012, 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 Americans and cost almost $80 billion in 2012. That cost has more than doubled since 2008.
The bill approved by the House Agriculture Committee in May would make much larger cuts to food stamps than the Senate version, in a bid to gain support from those House conservatives who have opposed the measure. The Senate bill would cut the food stamp program, now known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, by about $400 million a year, or half a percent. The House bill would cut the program by $2 billion a year, or a little more than 3 percent, and make it more difficult for some people to qualify.