Agriculture Policy
3:09 pm
Tue February 4, 2014

Oklahoma Senators Vote Against Sending Five-Year Farm Bill To White House

U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.)
Credit Senator Jim Inhofe / Facebook

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.

Both of Oklahoma's U.S. Senators voted against the measure.

The bill does away with controversial direct cash payments made to farmers under a subsidy system, replacing it with crop insurance.

"It is crucial that our agricultural industry has the commodity support safety net for America’s farmers and ranchers who provide us with the safest and most abundant food supply in the world," U.S. Sen Jim Inhofe said in a statement. "This farm bill contains historic reforms to commodity support programs, moving from direct payments and counter-cyclical payments to an exclusive focus on strengthening crop insurance with new protection for production agriculture from product price declines."

But Inhofe voted against the measure because he didn't see enough savings in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), also known as food stamps.

"Of the $956 billion in the farm bill, $756 billion must be spent on food stamps alone over the next ten years," Inhofe said. "During the Senate consideration of the farm bill I offered an amendment, which would have cut $300 billion from the program over 10 years and turned it into a block grant for states to control, but it was not adopted."

During floor debate Monday, U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn said the government will be subsidizing more than 60 percent of crop insurance in the country, and that program will guarantee 86 percent of a farmer's revenue.

"I mean think about that," Coburn said. "Do you know anywhere else where you can get your revenue on your crops guaranteed at 86 percent and the federal taxpayer is paying most of the cost of the insurance for that?"

The provisions in the Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act of 2013 bears 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 Morning Edition story from 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.

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