By a vote of 64 to 35, The U.S. Senate Thursday approved its version of a new five-year farm bill that would change the way the government subsidizes agriculture and finances crop-insurance programs.
Senate passage was a big step toward enacting a farm bill this year, but the House is not expected to begin work on its version until July, according to Reuters. Analysts say election-year pressures are likely to delay the farm bill into later in the year or early 2013.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack urged Congress to keep the bill moving forward.
"Swift action is needed so that American farmers and ranchers and our rural communities have the certainty they need to continue strengthening the rural and national economy," Vilsack said in a statement.
The Senate’s version of the he bill clears the way for $80 billion per year in food stamps and cuts spending on farm subsidies and farmland conservation by around $2 billion per year.
Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., ranking member of the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee, applauded Senate approval of the bill and called for swift House consideration to provide America’s farmers with certainty before the current law expires.
The House Agriculture Committee has yet to begin marking-up their version of the bill.
“The bipartisan farm bill approved by the Senate (S.3240) provides farmers improved risk management tools consistent with Farm Bureau's core principles,” said Bob Stallman, president, American Farm Bureau Federation. “While no farm bill is perfect, this is a solid bill that was worthy of Senate approval.”
The bill includes important reforms and is fiscally responsible, while including important provisions to enhance crop insurance, maintain a viable marketing loan program and minimize the potential for farm program provisions to drive producer decisions, according to Stallman. “We applaud the Senate for approving a workable bill and moving this process forward.”
“The Senate has provided a bill that stands firm on $23 billion in savings, yet protects and strengthens the federal crop insurance program,” Stallman says. “Now our attention turns to the House Agriculture Committee, which will begin its farm bill legislative activity in July.”
The House of Representatives is now required to pass its version of the bill. The House version of the bill will then have to be reconciled with the Senate version. The final draft of the bill will then require the signature of President Obama to become law.
The current farm bill expires Sept. 30. If a final bill is not approved before then, the current farm bill would need to be extended.