Senate OKs $286 Billion Farm Bill, Must Reconcile Differences With House

The Senate on Friday approved a $286 billion farm bill with an election-year expansion of subsidies for growers and food stamps for the poor.

The bill, passed on a 79-14 vote, expands subsidies for wheat, barley, oat, soybeans and several other crops and creates new grants for vegetable and fruit growers.

It also increase loan rates for sugar producers, extends dairy programs and provide more dollars for renewable energy and conservation programs to protect environmentally sensitive farmland over the next five years.

President Bush has threatened to veto the legislation, saying it costs too much and should instead be cutting subsidies at a time of record-high crop prices. He also has threatened to veto a House version passed in July.

White House opposition and criticism from fiscal conservatives has so far had little impact on the politically popular bill.

Farm-state senators deflected several attempts to derail the bill and reduce government payments to large growers. Still, even some from farm country acknowledged the bill doesn't do enough to trim the government's massive subsidy programs.

Senate Agriculture Chairman Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, had hoped to take significant steps to reduce subsidies but was blocked by Southern lawmakers on the committee who favor current law. Southern crops such as rice and cotton are more expensive to produce than corn, wheat and most other crops grown around the country.

Harkin had said earlier he wanted to reduce direct payments to farmers, which are paid regardless of crop yield but opposition to the idea was fierce among farmer interest groups. Harkin eventually dropped the plan.