WASHINGTON — The U.S. Senate passed a five-year extension of federal farm, conservation and nutrition programs on Thursday, signing off on a $500 billion bill that would end direct farm subsidies, increase crop insurance and cut about $4.5 billion in funding for food stamps programs over the next five years.
The bill passed the Senate with bipartisan support, 64-35, after almost three days of debate and votes on more than six dozen amendments. Both of Minnesota’s senators supported the bill.
“This was a strong showing,” Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, said. “I don’t think anyone expected, with the way things are in Washington right now, to get a complex bill like this through the United States Senate, but we did it.”
The Senate’s bill cuts about $23 billion over the next decade, primarily by ending direct subsidies to farmers. In exchange, the bill boosts federal support for crop insurance, allowing many farmers to pay for up to 60 percent of their insurance premiums with government subsidies. In Minnesota, the average farmer receives about $13,000 a year in direct subsidies under current law.
Many farming organizations have supported the bill, primarily because it grew the crop insurance program. The Senate did pass an amendment to the bill lowering the subsidy rate for farmers who make more than $750,000 a year.
Last week, lawmakers defeated an amendment meant to end a federal program that supports the sugar industry by setting prices and limiting imports. Minnesota has a large sugar beet industry, and Sens. Klobuchar and Al Franken opposed the measure.
“I think this is a good bill,” Franken said. “This is a good bill for Minnesota, and it’s great that we got it done when we got it done.”
The House has yet to take up a farm bill, but it’s scheduled to mark up its version of the legislation on July 11. House Republicans could look to cut more than $30 billion over the next decade.
Like the Senate version, the House bill will likely contain cuts to farm subsidies and increase spending on crop insurance, but it may provide funding for a counter-cyclical program that subsidizes farmers when commodity prices drop below a set price. U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, the lead Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee, supports such a measure.
In a statement, Peterson called the Senate’s action an “important step to having a farm bill in place before the current bill expires this fall.” But, “I’m not on board with everything they’ve done but think that we’ll be able to work out our differences in conference committee.”
Given the Republican majority in the House, the bill is also likely to contain deeper cuts to the bill’s food stamp provisions. The government spends about $80 billion a year on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which makes it the largest program of the farm bill. SNAP spending has more than doubled since 2007, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
Klobuchar and Franken both said they don’t want to cut too much more from the SNAP program, preferring to limit cuts to programs that farmers said they can go without, like direct subsidies. Of the $23 billion in cuts, $16 billion come from farm programs, which make up only about 14 percent of the bill as a whole, Klobuchar said.
“At a time when there are so many people unemployed, so many people not working, it doesn’t make sense to cut that,” Franken said.
Devin Henry can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @dhenry