With a vote of 68-32, the Senate approved a sweeping farm bill Tuesday that will set rules and practices for American agriculture for five years. The bill does away with controversial direct cash payments made to farmers under a subsidy system, replacing it with crop insurance.
The provisions in the Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act of 2013 bear signs of compromise between Republicans and Democrats, on issues ranging from food aid programs to budget cuts.
The bill represents hundreds of billions of dollars; it's now headed to President Obama, who is expected to sign it. The Congressional Budget Office breaks the costs of the bill down:
"CBO estimates that direct spending stemming from the programs authorized by the conference agreement would total $956 billion over the 2014-2023 period, of which $756 billion would be for nutrition programs. Relative to spending and revenues projected under CBO's May 2013 baseline, CBO estimates that enacting the conference agreement would lower budget deficits by $16.6 billion over that 10-year period."
And here's some background from a Morning Edition story by NPR's Ailsa Chang:
"The farm bill started out as a way to help farmers who were hurting after the Great Depression. But it's become one of those mammoth bills in Congress crammed with things that in many cases have very little to do with each other. Food stamps, dairy policies, Christmas tree feeds. Republican John McCain of Arizona pored through some of the bill's 900 pages, or had his staff do that, and found what he called straight-up handouts, like $12 million to study and promote wool."
McCain also complained about "$15 million earmarked for an office that would inspect catfish," Ailsa says. And she notes that critics of the bill also say its use of crop insurance could be prone to the same problems that have been found in the direct payment system.
As we reported last week, the new bipartisan bill ends months and months of debate.