* Legislation reduces spending by about $23 billion
* Liberal lawmakers decry cuts to food stamps
* Bill goes to Senate for vote as early as Thursday
(Adds comments by lawmakers, details of bill)
By Eric Beech
WASHINGTON, Jan 29 The U.S. House of
Representatives passed a comprehensive farm bill on Wednesday
that cuts payments for food stamps by about 1 percent and ends
a direct subsidy to farmers, while expanding government-backed
crop insurance programs.
After months of negotiations and criticism from both sides
of the political spectrum the measure passed easily, by 251
votes to 166, with 162 Republicans joining 89 Democrats in
favor. The bill, which is supposed to be passed every five
years, is more than a year overdue after congressional
negotiators struggled to forge a compromise.
A vote in the Democratic-run Senate could come as early as
Thursday and the bill is expected to pass, Senate Agriculture
Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow told reporters on
Wednesday. White House spokesman Jay Carney said President
Barack Obama would sign the legislation.
The wide-ranging legislation affects about 16 million jobs
in the country's agricultural sector and can have an impact on
the business landscape for major agricultural companies.
"This bill eliminates unnecessary subsidies, creates a more
effective farm safety-net and strengthens our commitment to
conservation of land and water," Stabenow, a Michigan Democrat,
said in a statement.
Stabenow was on the House floor on Wednesday and was seen
hugging some members on the House floor after the vote.
The agriculture committees say the bill will save about $23
billion over 10 years, compared with current funding - less than
many conservative Republicans had hoped for. The Congressional
Budget Office, using a different measurement, has estimated
savings of $16.6 billion over a decade.
"All Americans stand to benefit in some way from this farm
bill," House Speaker John Boehner said after the vote. "This is
an improvement over current law, and there are no earmarks."
About $8 billion in savings over 10 years comes from cuts to
the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly known as
food stamps. That was well below the $40 billion cut advocated
by the Republican-led House, which would have been the largest
reduction in a generation, but it was still double the amount
originally supported by Senate Democrats.
Liberal lawmakers decried the cut of about 1 percent to the
safety net program, which goes to about 47 million low-income
people to buy food and accounts for more than three-quarters of
the farm bill's spending.
"This bill will make hunger worse in America," Democratic
Representative Jim McGovern of Massachusetts said on the House
With congressional elections looming in November, Obama has
highlighted social safety-net programs such as food stamps and
unemployment insurance as a way to combat the widening income
gap in the United States.
Conservative pressure groups Heritage Action and Club for
Growth said the bill was too expensive and had urged a "no"
vote. The groups said they would include the results in their
scorecards of members' voting records for 2014.
The last farm bill, which passed in 2008, expired in
September after being extended for one year while negotiators
ironed out differences between measures approved in the House
The legislation ends so-called direct payment subsidies,
which for years have been doled out to farmers and landowners -
to the tune of some $5 billion a year - regardless of whether
there is a need for support and whether they actually grew
Instead, agriculture insurance programs would be expanded to
help producers manage risk. The bill also would establish
permanent disaster assistance for livestock producers.
"We are particularly pleased with provisions to provide risk
management to fruit and vegetable farmers and to support
livestock farmers during disasters," the American Farm Bureau
Federation said in a statement.
(Reporting by Eric Beech; editing by Sandra Maler, Ros Krasny
and Matthew Lewis)