CAPITOL HILL - A bill extending and reforming U.S. agricultural programs cleared a key legislative hurdle on Thursday as the Senate approved a five-year, half-trillion-dollar farm bill by a vote of 64 to 35.
The Senate appeared to cast aside partisan politics to pass bill, which will help low-income Americans buy food and compensate U.S. farmers for crop losses.
“The Agriculture Reform bill is about standing up for our nation’s farmers, our small businesses, our manufacturers, our exporters and others, whose livelihood depends on us getting the policy right," said Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, who spoke moments before the vote. "This represents significant reform. It cuts subsidies. It cuts the deficit. It creates jobs."
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The bill, which seeks to trim costs from an $80 billion-a-year program that helps 46 million poor Americans buy food, also replaces a subsidy program that pays some farmers - regardless of whether they plant crops - with a new initiative designed to assist farmers who suffer losses on crops actually planted.
Senator Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) hailed the projected savings.
“Twenty-three billion [dollars] provided in deficit reduction through reduced mandatory spending," said the committee's ranking Republican. "This is a good bill."
The House of Representatives has yet to vote on a farm bill. After the House acts, any differences between the two versions will have to be reconciled. Even so, senators applauded the emergence of bipartisanship on the legislation as a good omen as the chamber braces to confront upcoming challenges, such as America’s massive national debt.
"There are good bipartisan vibes all around the Senate these days," said Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY). "We are building up a reserve of trust and goodwill that will help during the big picture negotiations coming at the end of the year."
The Senate’s top Republican, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, echoed the sentiment.
"This is one of the finest moments in the Senate in recent times in terms of how you pass a bill," he said. "And I think we are all feeling good about the way this has been handled."
Before final action on the farm bill, the Senate voted on scores of proposed amendments to the measure on matters ranging from environmental protection to federal funding for political party conventions.
U.S. farm subsidies have been a persistent irritant to many other agriculture-exporting nations, such as Brazil, that argue the payments are an unfair trade barrier and harm developing economies.