WASHINGTON -- The Senate, in a 74-26 vote, passed a sweeping change in the government's farm programs yesterday, sending a compromise bill to the House for final passage and then on to President Clinton for his expected signature.
The bill, which split Senate Democrats, would bring an end to most farm subsidies over the next seven years. But farmers who raise such crops as wheat, corn, soybeans and cotton would continue to receive fixed, declining payments from Washington until 2002. In return, the federal government would give up its role in helping to dictate most farmers' planting decisions, leaving them to plant on the basis of the market.
As the new farm program neared the end of its legislative journey, Republicans cheered an effort that first threatened to divide them but ultimately brought them together to reduce the federal government's role in agriculture.
"From now on the federal government will stop trying to control how much food, feed and fiber our nation produces," said Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Richard G. Lugar, an Indiana Republican. "Instead, we will trust the market for the first time in a long while to direct those signals."
While all but one Senate Republican voted in favor of passage, Democrats in the end were the ones who split over the measure. Twenty-two Democrats voted for the measure, while 25 voted against.
With farmers across the nation preparing to plant, lawmakers in the House and Senate rushed to complete the bill before recessing for several weeks. The delay in the bill -- which was to have been completed by last September -- had caused great uncertainty among farmers, whose planting decisions have largely been dictated by the Washington programs since the mid-1930s.
Mr. Clinton has said he has "very serious reservations" about the bill but conceded he would likely sign it. The Clinton administration had sought provisions for a continued "safety net" that would help farmers weather crop disasters and other severe market fluctuations after 2003.
Lawmakers from states with large agricultural interests were deeply divided over the bill. Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, a Kansas Republican, applauded the bill as a "complete departure from the past," but North Dakota Democrat Kent Conrad warned that that departure could spell ruin for many family owned farms after payments end in 2002.
Pub Date: 3/29/96