Sen. Patrick Leahy is optimistic that a new farm bill, one that makes big changes in national dairy policies, will win broad bipartisan support in the Senate. However, the outlook in the House is less certain.
For months, there’s been no farm bill in place because of major differences between the U.S. Senate and House. Now there’s a new effort in Congress to pass this legislation.
By a vote of 15 to 5, the Senate Agriculture Committee has given its approval to a bill that restructures current dairy policies.
Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, is a member of the committee. He said a key part of the bill is a shift away from providing direct payments to farmers.
Instead, Leahy said, the plan creates a system where farmers can purchase special insurance to make certain that milk prices are stabilized whenever market forces drive those prices down.
Leahy said he’s received a lot of support for the approach from Vermont dairy farmers.
“They all realize that the old way of whether it’s dairy farming or any other kind of farming won’t work in this century,” said Leahy. “And this was the plan they agreed would work best for them.”
The Senate plan cuts federal agriculture spending by $23 billion over the next five years, in part by eliminating most commodity price supports and by cutting the food stamp program by $4 billion. Leahy said he’s trying to offset the impact of those cuts.
“Now what I’m going to do is make sure that there is enough flexibility in the program so that we can buy local foods, for example, in Vermont that saves money but also helps a great deal.”
Last year, the House Agriculture Committee passed out a farm bill, but House Republican leaders never brought the bill to the floor for a vote. Rep. Peter Welch, of Vermont, said House leaders have pledged to have a floor debate this year but he’s concerned that efforts will be made to make huge cuts in the food stamp program.
“There are members of Congress who basically would almost eliminate the food stamp program altogether. They really cut the heart out of it,” said Welch, a Democrat. “We’ve got to face the fact that yes, the stock market is going up, but you know a lot of kids are hungry.”
And Welch said he’ll have a hard time voting for a bill if it guts the dairy price stabilization provisions and includes big cuts in food stamps.
“I mean there’s a point at which you wouldn’t be able to support it,” said Welch. “But my goal now is to work, work, work, make this the best possible bill we can get to the floor.”
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