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Farm bill awaits only Obama's approval

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By Gannett News Service
Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2014, 8:36 p.m.
 

WASHINGTON — After years of delays and contentious negotiations that threatened to derail the farm bill, Congress completed its work on a five-year package that now heads to the White House, where President Obama will sign it into law on Friday.

The Senate voted 68-32 on Tuesday on a $500 billion farm bill that will end direct payments to farmers, expand the popular crop insurance program and cut spending on food stamps for some poor Americans by 1 percent.

The farm bill, which had been mired in Congress for nearly three years, was passed in a dizzying blur of action. It took about a week for the legislation to be introduced by House and Senate negotiators, and approved by lawmakers in both chambers. The House passed the bill by a 251-166 vote last week.

“This is not your father's farm bill. It's a new direction for American agriculture policy,” said Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee. “It's time to get it to the president for signature.”

Obama said while the farm bill “isn't perfect,” it contains many of the reforms championed by his administration that “will make a positive difference not only for the rural economies that grow America's food, but for our nation.” The White House said the president will sign the legislation on Friday at Michigan State University and discuss its importance.

The nearly 1,000-page bill, which replaces the 2008 legislation, sets policy on everything from trade and conservation to food stamps and subsidy payments to farmers. An estimated 16 million Americans are employed because of agriculture and food industries.

The legislation will reduce spending by $23 billion during a decade. Lawmakers agreed to end $5 billion in annual direct payments, given out to farmers regardless of need. In its place, the farm bill uses some of the savings to expand the federally subsidized crop insurance programs by $5.7 billion to help farmers better manage risk tied to unexpected weather disasters or gyrations in commodity prices.

The bill saves $6 billion by reducing the number of conservation programs to 13 from 23. Funding for food stamps, known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, will be trimmed by $8 billion during the next decade, about 1 percent of total spending. The cuts were made through changes to a heating assistance program used by some states to determine whether an individual qualifies for food assistance. Congress will require 10 states to develop employment and training test programs for food stamp recipients.

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