Congress moved a step closer Monday toward completing a sweeping five-year, $500 billion farm law, with the Senate approving legislation that would cut farm subsidies while expanding crop insurance.
The Senate voted 66-27 in favor of the package, which includes food stamps, rural economic development programs and international food aid.
The attention now shifts to the House where it is anticipated to take up consideration of the bill next week. Members have been asked to submit amendments to the House Rules Committee by 2 p.m. Monday. Debate could begin on Tuesday with a vote on the final passage expected on Thursday. All prospective amendments to the legislation will be printed in the Congressional Record and agreed to by the Rules Committee. Between 40 and 60 amendments to the bill are expected.
House Speaker John Boehner (Ohio) confirmed Monday the chamber would begin discussing the Farm Bill later this month and vowed a "vigorous and open debate."
"If you have ideas on how to make the bill better, bring them forward," Boehner told his colleagues. "Let's have the debate, and let's vote on them."
The Senate bill passed Monday would reduce overall spending by about $24 billion over 10 years, compared to about $38 billion during the same period in a House measure. Much of the savings would come from the consolidation of conservation programs, reductions to the food stamp program and cuts to farm subsidies of $17 billion.
While the House and Senate Farm Bill measures being crafted this year largely mirror each other in terms of changes to farm programs, a significant divide exists in the scope of proposed cuts to the country's food stamp program. The Senate is proposing reductions of $4 billion and the House about $20 billion. Food aid accounts for almost 80 percent of spending in the Farm Bill and has given lawmakers from non-rural areas a significant stake in the final outcome of the bill.