The Senate reached a deal on amendments to the farm bill, which will allow them to begin voting today. In all, 73 mostly but not entirely germane amendments will be voted upon, stretched over two days, with the goal of wrapping up the bill by the end of the week.
So what is in this decade-long farm bill, potentially the biggest matter that Congress will legislate this year?
The new five-year measure would cost $969 billion over the next decade and includes $23.6 billion in proposed cuts, making it a slimmed-down version of legislation that historically served as one of the main opportunities for members of Congress to deliver pork-barrel spending to their constituents.
How does that $969 billion get split up? As this chart shows, most of it goes to the food stamp program. There are cuts in this area which Kirsten Gillibrand is trying to remove through an amendment that will get a vote. The cuts, mainly from disallowing food stamp benefits for some recipients of federal heating assistance, would translate into $90 a month reductions for hundreds of thousands of families. The House wants to cut far beyond the Senate’s $4.5 billion, including potentially block-granting the program.
The big change in this farm bill concerns the end of direct subsidy payments to farmers in favor of crop insurance (which farmers can purchase in case their crops fail or prices drop). The federal government will subsidize deductibles for the crop insurance, as a cushion for the end of direct payments.
In addition, there are various USDA conservation programs funded by the farm bill (albeit with some cuts), trade promotion programs, forestry programs, and biofuels and other energy programs).
David Rogers has more on the negotiations over amendments. And Philip Bump has a good list of the most important amendments. In addition to Gillibrand’s amendment on restoring funds from food stamp cuts, there are amendments to limit the crop insurance subsidies for higher-income farmers, to ban the ownership of livestock by meatpackers, and restoring funding for young farmer programs. Among the more ridiculous amendments include proposals to study the effects of the automatic cuts in December, and an amendment from Marco Rubio to “give merit-based pay raises to workers without seeking permission from union leaders,” a fairly transparent union-busting measure.