In the coming weeks, the U.S. Senate is expected to spend a considerable amount of time and effort debating the latest farm bill, which would set the nation’s agricultural policy for the next five years.
The bill would cut spending by eliminating agricultural subsidies, which essentially consists of direct government payments to American farmers to not grow certain crops, but maintains a safety net for the agricultural sector, including a crop insurance program that protects farmers against volatile price changes in the market and adverse weather events that damage crops.
“We’re not going to pay farmers anymore when they’re having a good year, or for things they don’t grow. We want to move to a risk-based system, based on the marketplace,” said Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Senate Agriculture Committee chairwoman in a C-SPAN interview on Sunday.
Traditionally considered to be one of the primary offenders of pork-barrel spending, the newly proposed farm bill is considerably slimmed down, and its authors claim that although the bill will cost $969 billion over the next decade, it will also trim $23 billion from the federal deficit over the same time period. “This isn’t your father’s farm bill,” Stabenow said on Wednesday.
Thus far, the bill seems to enjoy bipartisan support, perhaps signaling that a new age of austerity has finally dawned on Capitol Hill. Any disagreements or controversy over the bill will likely cut along regional, rather than partisan lines.
Sens. Stabenow and Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), the current ranking member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, are working together to push the bill through the Senate. The bill passed its first legislative hurdle last Thursday in the Senate, as a 90–8 vote officially opened up debate on the piece of agricultural legislation.
The White House thus far has given the bill public support, stressing the need to eliminate the system of direct payments while maintaining a robust safety net for farmers. “It is critical that the Congress pass legislation that provides certainty for rural America and includes needed reforms and savings,” the administration said in a public statement.
The bill also targets federal food stamp programs, which the bill’s supporters say are being abused, as there have been several reported cases of lottery winners obtaining SNAP food aid.
Legislators are hoping to pass and enact the farm bill in some form or other by August ahead of the growing season, as the current farm bill, titled the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008, is set to expire in September.
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