WASHINGTON — Congress completed work last week on a long-stalled farm bill, sending to President Obama a measure that authorizes $956 billion over the next 10 years on nutrition aid to the poor, and crop subsidies and insurance for agribusiness.
In a rare show of bipartisanship, senators voted 68-32 for a final negotiated version of the bill. The House passed it late last month. Obama signed it into law at the end of the week.
“This is not your father’s farm bill,” said Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., Agriculture Committee chairwoman.
She said the bill restructures the crop subsidy system to eliminate $5 billion in direct payments to farmers whether they grew anything or not.
The sweeping bill, which replaces one that was enacted in 2008, also sets policy on matters of food labeling, conservation, agriculture trade and crop insurance. Lawmakers worked through a series of controversies that delayed completion by two years.
The Congressional Budget Office estimated the legislation will save $16.6 billion over 10 years compared to current spending. About half the projected savings derives from cuts in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, more popularly known as the food stamp program that feeds 47.5 million people.
While sponsors said the new law will not drop anyone from the food stamp program, benefits will be cut by $90 for about 850,000 people. The change affects 15 states that were using a formula to increase payments.
Opposition to the final bill generally came from liberals unhappy with the food stamp cuts and conservatives who believed it did not cut enough.
Sens. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., and John Boozman, R-Ark., voted for the bill.
Bid to extend jobless benefits fails again
The Senate failed in its latest attempt to extend emergency jobless benefits for almost 2 million long term unemployed.
Senators voted 58-40 for a procedural motion to advance a three-month extension but 60 votes were needed.
Four Republicans joined Democrats in favoring the bill. But other Republicans voted against it, complaining they were not being allowed to offer amendments that might reform the unemployment insurance program or authorize job creation measures. Democrats insisted on minimal changes.
Benefits expired on Dec. 28 for 1.3 million job-seekers. That number has grown each week to a current 1.7 million as people exhaust their basic 26-weeks of state-funded unemployment checks.
Pryor voted for the bill. Boozman voted against it
House passes federal land bills
The House took up several federal land bills, including one aimed at opening more of it to hunting and fishing.
A bill that passed 268-154 would authorize more money for shooting ranges on public land, limit the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to regulate hunting and fishing equipment for toxic substances, and allow firearms at lakes and dams operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Supporters said the bill, a compilation of eight wetlands measures, would trim the bureaucracy surrounding use of federal land for recreation. Opponents said it would undermine environmental protections in the process.
Reps. Steve Womack, R-Rogers, Rick Crawford, R-Jonesboro, Tim Griffin, R-Little Rock, and Tom Cotton, R-Dardanelle, voted for the bill.
In a similar move they said would broaden public access and encourage development, House Republican leaders combined another dozen land bills into one that passed, 220-194.
Among other provisions the bill would double the length of grazing permits from 10 to 20 years and allow the Interior Department to consolidate environmental reviews of grazing applications.
It also would prevent the Bureau of Land Management from acquiring new land until it identified land that it could dispose.
Opponents described the bill as a federal land “giveaway,” and one that would lead to taxpayer-owned lands being mismanaged and unprotected.
Womack, Crawford, Griffin and Cotton voted for the bill.