Senate passes farm bill by 81 - 15 vote

The Senate was expected to pass a new farm bill by a wide margin on Thursday morning and that’s exactly what happened. By a vote of 81-15, the bill was approved.

After yesterday’s lopsided House vote (318-106), the new farm bill is now destined for the desk of an unhappy President Bush.

Currently touring the Middle East, Bush has promised on his return to veto the nearly $300 billion legislation as it isn’t close enough to his payment reform wishes. With such overwhelming congressional support for the bill, however, it is unlikely his veto will amount to anything.

Just prior to the bill passing, Arkansas Sen. Blanche Lincoln — a farm bill conferee — said the legislation would “provide tremendous economic stimulus to rural America.” Besides funding agriculture, conservation and nutrition programs, “the bill funds water and waste disposal grants and loans that are absolutely critical to our rural communities.”

“The problem is so few (members of Congress) come from rural areas, who understand farm programs. Nor do they understand the diversity and differences in which commodities are grown in this country.”

Lincoln said she didn’t disagree “that we were asked to give more than anyone else. But we were outnumbered — Southerners and Southern growers were outnumbered. We held on as best we could.”

Shortly after Senate passage, Tom Buis, National Farmers Union president, said, “the Senate’s vote demonstrates the broad support the 2008 farm bill has across the country. It’s taken two years to get to this point and while no piece of legislation is ever perfect, this is a good bill, and I am pleased to see such overwhelming support in Congress.”

Similar sentiment came in a statement from the American Sugar Alliance: “Sugar producers are struggling right now with low prices, high input costs, and the threat of unneeded sugar imports from trade agreements overhanging the market. This farm bill is desperately needed to overcome these obstacles and ensure the country will have a homegrown supply of reliable, high-quality sugar for years to come.”

In a Thursday morning interview, Louisiana Rep. Charles Boustany, also lauded the new bill. Asked to assess the legislation, Boustany, a Republican, first pointed to its bipartisan crafting. “In fact, a majority of Republicans supported this bill. We’ve worked for over two years … to come up with a bill. Clearly, a lot of compromises were made.

“The bill that passed the House (last July) had been co-opted by the liberal Democratic leadership to the point where it included massive tax increases. Because we held the line at that point, we were finally able to get a good compromise … that passed yesterday.”

The bill “provides satisfactory protections for our farmers and does have significant reforms in it.”

Boustany said there is so much support for the bill that “I believe we have the votes to override a veto and would urge (President Bush) to back down on that.”

Was Boustany surprised at the House’s overwhelming margin of passage? “I tell you, I knew it had support — but I’m pleased at that kind of margin. We worked hard to build that margin.

“On the Republican side, there was strong recognition that a lot had gone into the bill, there was a lot of give-and-take, and given the uncertain times — and the fact we want to see American farmers strong in global markets — there needed to be a good safety net. The work on the nutrition title helped to (garner) support.”

One last thing, said Boustany: “My position on this farm bill is due to it being good policy. This has nothing to do with fear over the upcoming political season. I fought hard for good policy and we have that in this farm bill.”

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