WASHINGTON — In a rare display of bipartisanship, Congress gave final approval Tuesday to a nearly $1-trillion farm bill, a hard-fought compromise that sets policy over agricultural subsidies, nutrition programs and the food stamp safety net for the next five years.
The Senate approved the measure, 68-32, as a cross-section of farm-state senators from both parties fought back opposition from budget hawks and some liberals to send the bill to the White House for President Obama’s signature. It easily passed the House last week.
“As with any compromise, the farm bill isn’t perfect — but on the whole, it will make a positive difference not only for the rural economies that grow America’s food, but for our nation,” Obama said.
The massive bill was two years in the making, repeatedly stalled by brutal partisan fights. Democrats refused Republican attempts to slash funding for the federal food-stamp program, which ballooned during the recession as middle-income families came to rely on that safety net.
At the same time, both sides found common ground in doing away with costly agricultural subsidies, preferring instead a new system of crop insurance. In between, debates over eggs, catfish and milk prices punctuated the debate.
“Many people said this would never happen in this environment, but Congress has come together to pass a major bipartisan jobs bill,” said Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee. “This is not your father’s farm bill. It’s a new direction for American agriculture policy."
The final legislation cut food stamps by $8 billion over the next decade, much less than the $40-billion reduction initially approved by Republicans in the House. A controversial new work requirement was also abandoned.
Budget hawks touted the bill’s promise of reducing the deficit by $23 billion over the status quo. More than $18 billion of the savings comes from cuts to farm programs, including an end to direct subsidy payments to farmers — a controversial practice that gave farmers federal subsidies regardless of their output.