WASHINGTON, D.C. — The House last week broke a two-year impasse and passed a farm bill that authorizes almost $1 trillion for crop subsidies and nutrition programs.
Lawmakers voted 251-166 for the sweeping bill that drew support from both Democrats and Republicans, but also was opposed by members from both parties.
Debates over food stamps, crop insurance, food inspections, dairy support and the allocation of subsidies to commodities grown in different parts of the country tested the coalition of urban and rural lawmakers that customarily form the base of support for the bill.
In the end, the bill cut food stamp funding by $8 billion over 10 years, eliminated $5 billion in direct subsidies to farmers, expanded crop insurance and limited milk production that would be covered by federal insurance.
The measure also included the Payment In Lieu of Taxes grant program that mostly benefits western states.
The Congressional Budget Office projected the bill would reduce spending on farm programs by $16.6 billion over 10 years, an estimate some watchdogs said was overly optimistic.
Congressman Derek Kilmer, D-Wash., and Congresswoman Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Wash., voted for the bill.
The House voted 227-188 for a bill forbidding the use of taxpayer money to pay for abortions or for health plans that cover abortion. There is an exemption for cases of rape, incest or where a woman’s life would be in danger.
Republican sponsors said the measure would make permanent abortion policy that has been renewed regularly in annual appropriations bills, and to ensure it is followed under the new health care law.
“The premise of this legislation is nothing new,” said Congresswoman Renee Ellmers, R-N.C. “Most Americans recognize it is unfair to force every American in this country to subsidize abortion.”
Congresswoman Lois Capps, D-Calif., one of the bill’s critics, called it “a cynical attack on women’s personal decisionmaking.” Congresswoman Judy Chu, D-Calif. said it would effectively “drive out abortion coverage” among private insurers.
Herrera Beutler voted for the bill. Kilmer voted against it.
The Democrat-controlled Senate was not expected to take up the bill, which also was opposed by the Obama administration.
Flood insurance rates
The Senate voted 67-32 to delay a sharp hike in premiums for federal flood insurance.
The bill would delay increases for four years. The higher premiums were designed under a law enacted in 2012 to stem red ink in the national flood insurance program.
But senators said the dramatic rise in premiums threatens homeowners who live along the coasts. Debate comes at a time when experts say climate change is raising the level of the oceans and creating more intense storms.
“We’re in a situation where there are a lot of very innocent people who didn’t have any role in creating this intensified warming of the ocean and, as a result, more intense storms,” said Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., “But they shouldn’t be caught as the victims without a better plan.”
The bill delays increases until the the Federal Emergency Management Agency finishes a study of flood insurance affordabilty that is expected to take four years to complete and review.
Critics of the bill said it was too soon to throw out reforms enacted just two years ago. By doing so, “we go right back to the insolvent, unsustainable program we had before,” said Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa.
Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, both D-Wash., voted for the bill.