This vote was on final passage of legislation that would authorize federal programs to assist farmers and low-income Americans.
The farm bill would authorize $969 billion in spending over the following decade on programs that provide a safety net for farmers and assistance to help low-income Americans afford groceries. As compared to existing law, the bill would reduce federal spending by about $24 billion over the next decade. Among its chief reforms were the elimination of “direct payments” and movement toward crop insurance and other safety net programs that pay farmers only when they suffer a loss; measures to cut down on waste and fraud in food assistance programs; and consolidation of a number of programs that lawmakers said were duplicative.
Supporters of the farm bill argued that it achieved a good balance of support for farmers, assistance for low-income families, and measures to cut unnecessary spending and fraud.
“This legislation achieves what many thought impossible: It creates a market-oriented safety net that works for American farmers, strengthens crop insurance, and streamlines conservation programs, while still contributing $23.6 billion to deficit reduction,” Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT) said. “There is a lot of talk on Capitol Hill about creating jobs and cutting debt. The farm bill is our jobs bill. It is also responsible to taxpayers. If we senators were farmers, I would say we have produced a pretty good crop with this bill.”
Opponents of the farm bill argued that despite some efforts to trim programs, it would still lead to far too much federal spending. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) took aim at a number of programs authorized by the bill – such as subsidy programs to support producers of cotton and catfish – saying they were giveaways to “special interests” and designed to attract votes from senators whose home states would benefit.
“Regrettably, the fact remains that the programs authorized under this farm bill consume a colossal sum of taxpayer dollars,” Sen. McCain said. “While I believe it’s necessary to assist low-income families with nutrition programs, and that we should keep our farmers out of the red when a natural disaster strikes, I’m also mindful that taxpayers are saddled with a $1.5 trillion deficit and a ballooning $15 trillion national debt. We must reduce the size of the federal government and the farm bill is certainly ripe for spending cuts. Instead, Congress spends and spends with the full knowledge that we are about to drive off a fiscal cliff.”
The Senate approved the farm bill by a vote of 64-35. Voting “yea” were 48 Democrats, including a majority of progressives, and 16 Republicans. Voting “nay” were 30 Republicans and 5 Democrats. As a result, the Senate gave final approval to legislation that would authorize federal programs to assist farmers and low-income Americans. However, to become law, the bill would also need to be approved by the House of Representatives and signed into law by the president.