House Approves $170B Farm Bill
WASHINGTON (AP) _ The House on Friday easily approved a $170 billion overhaul of farm programs after turning aside a bid by urban lawmakers and environmentalists to shift billions in crop subsidies into conservation programs.
The White House has sharply criticized the bill, which would reverse the 1996 ``Freedom to Farm″ law that was supposed to wean farmers from government supports.
``We wanted to get rid of the bad and keep the good parts, and that’s what we did,″ said Rep. Larry Combest, R-Texas, chairman of the House Agriculture Committee.
The bill, approved 291-120, creates a new subsidy program to protect grain and cotton farmers when prices are low and resurrects supports for sheep and honey producers that were eliminated in the 1990s. Authors of the legislation say the existing financial safety net for farmers is inadequate.
``The 1996 farm bill is an utter failure,″ said Texas Rep. Charles Stenholm, the committee’s top Democrat.
The White House this week said the subsidies would encourage overproduction and benefit farmers who need assistance the least. The administration wants more money put into conservation programs.
``We do believe there can be additional things added into the bill to reach a broader number of people and a broader number of farmers,″ said Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman.
But the House defeated, 226-200, a proposal Thursday that would have moved $19 billion from planned crop supports into payments for farmers who idle farmland or take steps to curb runoff of fertilizer and animal waste.
Groups representing grain, cotton and soybean growers viewed the proposal as a major threat to their government support and had secured a pledge from Combest to shelve the bill had the amendment been approved.