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Farm Bill Passes Senate, Goes to President

Fran Smith of Open Market:

With the U.S. Senate’s passage February 4 of a farm bill by a vote of 68-32, a nearly $1 trillion (over 10 years) farm bill will govern agriculture policy for the next five years. The House had previously approved the bill last week. About 80 percent of the spending goes for food stamp and nutrition programs.

Even though this was the most contentious farm bill process in recent history, the results are pretty much the same: farmers will get their pork one way or another. The elimination of “direct payments” to farmers was touted by supporters of this legislation. Those are payments made to farmers even if they didn’t farm the land. All well and good. But instead of putting those expected savings back into taxpayers’ wallets, lawmakers diverted many of those funds to the new pork – expanded federal crop insurance – where the federal government (taxpayers) pays about 60 percent of the farmers’ premiums and most of the administrative costs of the crop insurers. There’s also no means testing for determining who gets crop insurance subsidies.

This bill also creates what’s called a “shallow loss” program for farmers, where farmers would receive insurance payments when their revenues drop below a certain percentage of previous years or when the prices for agricultural commodities drop below target prices. With farmers’ record revenues and recent high commodity prices, this program could end up costing much more than the estimates if revenues and prices drop.

The U.S. sugar program remains with its command-and-control structure that determines supply and demand. Under that program, domestic sugar historically has cost two to three times the world price, which translates into about $4 billion more per year that consumers pay and the loss of jobs in the confectionery and food industries.

Three of the most influential Republican Senators on agriculture issues – Sens. Grassley (Iowa), Roberts (Kansas), and McCain (Ariz.) — were included in the 32 who voted Nay.

The bill now goes to President Obama for his signature.

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My Vote On The Farm Bill

By Senator Marco Rubio

Today, I voted no on the Agricultural Act of 2014, also known as the Farm Bill.

Florida's economy and the livelihoods of many family-owned businesses and workers rely on a vibrant agricultural industry. Unfortunately, this farm bill goes far beyond agricultural programs and includes anti-poverty programs and renewable energy programs, among other spending measures that total nearly $1 trillion.

With Washington facing a $17 trillion debt and another debt ceiling increase in a few weeks, this bill does not undertake any fundamental reforms to ensure every taxpayer dollar is being properly spent to secure our nation's food supply instead of needlessly growing government or continuing the status quo on programs that need reform.

For example, food stamp programs are an important part of our safety net, but we should have a separate debate on these and other anti-poverty programs with the goal of empowering states to better design these programs to help their people escape poverty.

And while energy innovation is an important debate and will be a key economic growth driver in the 21st century, we should be discussing renewable energy and biofuels programs in the context of energy policy, not lumping them in to this bill that's supposed to be about securing our nation's food supply.

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