WASHINGTON — Unlike a year ago, U.S. Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., supported a five-year farm bill that cleared the Senate Agriculture Committee on Tuesday with additional help for Southern rice and peanut growers.
The committee voted 15-5 in favor of a five-year farm bill that closely resembles legislation the Senate passed last year but with a higher level of subsidies for rice and peanut growers.
"While this bill before us leaves room for improvement in terms of meeting all the needs of our producers and increasing efficiency, its framework is a tremendous step in the right direction," Boozman said.
The concession came after a change in committee leadership this year shifted power — on the Republican side — from Midwesterner Pat Roberts of Kansas to Southerner Thad Cochran of Mississippi. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., remained chairwoman.
Cochran, like Boozman, voted against the farm bill that passed the Senate last June. Both voted for the bill that cleared the committee Tuesday.
Also, there was growing recognition on the Senate panel that a compromise was also needed to get a five-year reauthorization bill through the House.
"I think we are well on our way to getting a five-year bill that achieves all our objectives and can pass both chambers of Congress," Boozman said.
Stabenow said the bill reforms food and agricultural policy by eliminating direct payments and emphasizing the need to strengthen risk management tools for farmers, saving billions of dollars.
"I am proud that once again the Agriculture Committee was able to work together in a bipartisan way to complete major reforms that save money and grow our economy," she said.
The House Agriculture Committee is to meet Wednesday to begin work on its own version of the farm bill that will likely include even higher subsidies for rice and peanut growers.
It remains to be seen if the House and Senate can reach a final agreement this year on a five-year farm bill reauthorization. The two sides remain far apart on funding levels for nutrition assistance programs.
"Instead of subsidies that pay out every year even in good times, the bill creates risk management tools that support farmers when they are negatively impacted by weather disaster or market events beyond their control," Stabenow said.
The Senate bill would reduce the Food Stamp program by $400 million while the House bill would cut the program by $2 billion a year. The federal government now spends about $80 billion annually on the program for low-income families.