With dozens of votes, Senate farm bill taking shape

It hoped to finish its work by week's end, but approval in the House is another matter.

Posted: June 20, 2012

WASHINGTON - The Senate on Tuesday began plowing through 73 amendments to a $500 billion bill that will set farm policy and fund the food-stamp program over the next five years. One of its first votes was to reject a proposal to trim food-stamp spending.

The farm bill, one of the last major pieces of legislation that could clear Congress before the election, carries out major changes to the federal safety net for farmers, replacing their direct payments, even when they don't plant crops, with greater emphasis on crop insurance and a new program to protect farmers from revenue losses.

The Senate is expected to vote on all the amendments and pass the bill by the end of the week. It then goes to the House, where it could run into resistance from fiscal conservatives.

An early amendment in the Senate dealt with the price of the food-stamp program, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which now totals $80 billion a year, about 80 percent of the bill's spending. Food-stamp rolls have doubled over the last eight years to 46 million people, driven by the recession.

The Democratic-led Senate defeated by 56-43 a proposal by Sen. Jeff Sessions (R., Ala.) that would have restored strict asset tests for food-stamp eligibility.

A second Sessions amendment, to prevent states from getting bonuses for increasing registration of food-stamp recipients, was also defeated.

The base bill does save $4.5 billion over 10 years by ending another practice by some 15 states of giving low-income people as little as $1 a year in home heating assistance, even when they don't have heating bills, in order to make them eligible for increased food-stamp benefits.

Among the amendments that will be considered are those dealing with putting caps on crop-insurance subsidies and proposals dealing with the sugar growers' protection program, maple syrup, catfish, and aerial surveillance of farmland.

Also on the agenda were several amendments having nothing to do with farm policy, including a measure to cut off public funds for political party conventions and another demanding a report on the effects of automatic cuts in defense and other federal spending to take place in January.

Left out was an amendment by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D., Calif.) that would have codified an agreement between egg producers and the Humane Society of the United States to increase the size of hen cages over the next 18 years.

The Senate rejected, by 84-15, an amendment by Sen. Rand Paul (R., Ky.) that would have limited all farm payments and benefits to those with adjusted gross incomes of less than $250,000. The bill sets an income ceiling of $750,000 for receiving payment under the new revenue-protection program.

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