WASHINGTON — The U.S. Senate voted 66-27 to pass the five-year farm bill, passing the baton to the U.S. House, which may begin debating the bill during the week of June 17.
The final vote came in the evening of June 10 after one amendment was approved (48-38) to set up a pilot grant program to expand high-speed Internet.
"By eliminating duplication and streamlining programs, we were able to save $24 billion while strengthening initiatives that help farmers and small businesses reach new markets," Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), chairman of the powerful Senate Agriculture Committee, said after the bill passed.
On the Senate floor, Stabenow said the House "walked away from rural America last year" by not taking up the farm bill, forcing the Senate to tweak last year's bill and debate it for two weeks on the Senate floor again this year.
"There can be no more kicking the can down the road — it's time for Congress to finish its work on the farm bill," she said.
Rep. Collin Peterson (D-MN), ranking member on the House Agriculture Committee, applauded the Senate's bipartisan vote and called on the House to act.
The House Agriculture Committee approved a $940 billion farm bill on May 16 in a 36-to-10 vote. Democrats in the House are likely to oppose the deeper cuts in the food stamp program in the House version.
"It's going to be difficult, but if everything stays on track, I believe it's possible to get a bill to the President before the August recess, finally providing some certainty for our farmers, ranchers and consumers," Peterson said.
Fruit and vegetable programs stand to benefit from reauthorizing the five-year bill before the September 30 deadline.
"We congratulate the Senate Agriculture Committee and Senate leadership for moving forward with this legislation that is so important to the nation's produce providers," Tom Stenzel, chief executive officer of the United Fresh Produce Association, said in a statement released immediately following the June 10 vote.
"The bill supports fruits and vegetables in ways that will boost consumption and help provide healthful options to Americans - through block grants, nutrition programs and pest and disease research," Stenzel added. "We're looking forward to working with the House to preserve funding for these critical fruit and vegetable programs."