Washington Both Kansas senators voted for the farm bill on Thursday, despite cuts they say will hurt the state's farmers.
The Senate passed the $290 billion measure with a 81-15 vote, a day after the House approved it on a 318-106 vote. Both margins are more than enough to override a threatened veto from President Bush. The White House claims the bill sends too much money to wealthy farmers at a time of soaring crop prices.
Republicans Pat Roberts and Sam Brownback said they were disappointed that the measure would cut $313 million in direct payments over three years and $5.7 billion out of the crop insurance program. But they praised the bill for offering tax relief and money for cellulosic ethanol.
Direct payments - subsidies paid to producers of certain crops regardless of yield - are particularly important to wheat and sorghum farmers who face the risk of crop ruin from droughts or freezes.
"In recent years, direct payments and crop insurance have been a lifeline for Kansas farmers and their lenders," Roberts said late Wednesday in remarks on the Senate floor. Roberts was a member of the conference committee that resolved differences between farm bills passed in the House and Senate.
Brownback called it "a good farm bill" overall. "The positive aspects of this bill outweigh the negative," he said.
The bill contains tax breaks to help residents of Greensburg, Kan., rebuild after a devastating tornado last year left much of the town in ruins. It also includes $300 million for payments to support biofuel production like biodiesel and cellulosic ethanol, made from plant matter. And it works to expands broadband Internet service in rural areas.
Overall, the bill boosts nutrition programs like food stamps and emergency food aid for the needy by more than $10 billion. An additional $40 billion would go to farm subsidies, while $30 billion is directed to farm conservation and environmental programs.
The bill also gives the Homeland Security Department authority to approve construction of a new biodefense facility outside of the current location on Plum Island, N.Y. Kansas is one of five states competing to win the new lab, which would bring economic benefits to the state. Current law requires the agriculture secretary to issue a permit to move the lab only if he determines the move to be necessary and in the public's interest.
Most farm groups, including the Kansas Farm Bureau and the state's soybean and livestock associations, supported the measure as the best compromise available given the White House's push to curb subsidies. Farm advocates also sought the certainty of a long-term bill.