The Senate Agriculture Committee gave the thumbs up to the massive five-year, $500 billion Farm Bill that would eliminate direct payments to farmers, slash subsidies, bolster crop insurance, and consolidate conservation programs.
Lawmakers voted 16-5 to send the behemoth legislation to the Senate floor, brushing aside oppostion from Southern colleagues who claim the bill hurts their region and benefits the Midwest.
"By eliminating duplication, and streamlining and consolidating programs, we were able to continue investing in initiatives that help farmers and small businesses create jobs," said committee chairwoman Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., in a statement following the vote. "This bill proves that by working across party lines, we can save taxpayer money and create smart, cost-effective policies that lay the foundation for a stronger, more prosperous economy."
So what does the bill actually say? According to the Des Moines Register:
The Senate bill would save $24.7 billion during the next decade, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, with much of it coming through crop subsidy cuts. Conservation programs would be consolidated, saving $6.4 billion in spending, with about $4 billion cut from public nutrition by closing loopholes and boosting transparency of the program.
The Senate bill eliminates the $5 billion a year in direct payments given to farmers regardless of need. Savings would be invested in a new revenue insurance program that would protect farmers against “shallow losses” caused by low prices or poor yields. Crop insurance would kick in to cover larger losses.
You can read the Ag Committee's own summary of the bill at their website.
Lawmakers have to approve a new version of the farm bill, which lays out policy on everything from crop insurance to food stamps, before the current law expires on September 30.
And the House of Representatives has not indicated when it will act on its version of the legislation—which, of course, would have to be reconciled with the Senate's bill.
Critics have argued that the Senate bill does more harm than good because of huge cuts to food aid for needy families.
"The 2012 farm bill should do more to support family farmers, protect the environment, promote healthy diets and support working families," said Craig Cox, Senior Vice President for Agriculture and Natural Resources, Environmental Working Group, after the Senate unveiled their version of the bill last week. "It needlessly sacrifices conservation and feeding assistance programs to finance unlimited insurance subsidies and a new entitlement program for highly profitable farm businesses."