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Senate clears farm bill

WASHINGTON — Congress gave final approval Tuesday to a sweeping overhaul of federal farm and nutrition policies, sending a five-year farm bill to President Barack Obama for his signature.

The Senate voted 68-32 to approve the $956.4 billion agreement, which Obama is expected to sign in the coming days.

"As with any compromise, the farm bill isn't perfect — but on the whole, it will make a positive difference not only for the rural economies that grow America's food, but for our nation," Obama said in a statement after the vote.

After almost four years of intense negotiations between Democrats and Republicans, the package was formally introduced and passed by Congress in one week. The House approved it by a vote of 251-166 on Jan. 29.

The 959-page bill ends billions of dollars in direct subsidy payments to the nation's farmers. In their place, farmers can take advantage of a new crop insurance program. The agreement also saves billions by consolidating government conservation programs, and cuts about $8 billion in funding for food stamps, or 1 percent of the budget.

The bill is supposed to cut about $16 billion in spending during the next decade, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Supporters said the savings will be closer to $23 billion if automatic cuts to Agriculture Department programs that took effect last year are factored in.

Nelson, Rubio split

Florida Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson voted yes on the farm bill, while Republican Sen. Marco Rubio voted no. Nelson touted $125 million in research funds for citrus disease, a severe threat to an iconic part of Florida's agriculture economy. Rubio argued that the bill "goes far beyond agricultural programs and renewable energy programs, among other spending measures that total nearly $1 trillion.''

Alex Leary, Times Washington bureau chief

Senate clears farm bill 02/04/14 [Last modified: Tuesday, February 4, 2014 11:42pm]
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