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Senate nearing passage of farm bill

By Peter Urban
Stephens Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON — The Senate continued debate today on a $969 billion farm bill casting more than a dozen roll call votes on amendments to a variety of agriculture and nutrition programs.

Final passage of the bill is expected Thursday with Arkansas Sens. Mark Pryor, a Democrat, and John Boozman, a Republican, saying they will vote against it.

The Senate rejected an amendment offered by Boozman that would have eliminated bonuses that states receive for having low improper payment rates in their food stamp programs. The money would have been directed instead to local food banks.

Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., who chairs the Agriculture Committee, argued against the amendment saying the bonuses have been effective in reducing improper payments made through the Emergency Food Assistance Program.

The amendment failed, 35-63, with only three Democrats in favor including Pryor.

Boozman and Pryor said Tuesday they would vote against final passage because, they say, rice growers are treated unfairly under a revamped system for compensating farm losses.

The nearly 1,000-page bill that would establish federal farm policy for the next five years makes dramatic changes to the financial safety net erected to protect farmers from poor harvests and other losses.

They hope that a satisfactory deal can be worked out when the House and Senate negotiate a final version of the bill later this year.

“We all want a farm bill at the end of the day,” Boozman said.

Senate leaders had struggled for more than a week on an agreement over how to limit debate on the massive bill that had attracted 283 amendments. They reached a deal late Monday night to allow votes on 73 amendments with strict time limits on debate.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said that work on the bill would end today after they whittle the list down to 10 amendments that will be taken up Thursday.

Among the amendments that have been approved was one offered by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., that would do leave inspection of catfish to the Food and Drug Administration rather than move it to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Pryor and Boozman had opposed the amendment saying USDA inspection is needed to provide inspection of imported Asian fish.

McCain argued that the program wasted taxpayer money and that food safety would not be enhanced. Rather, he said, the American catfish growers were seeking to erect barriers to foreign competition.

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