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Lugar's alternative farm bill defeated

The first amendment voted on when the Senate got back to work on a farm bill, one which would have ended commodity programs in favor or a broader crop insurance program, was defeated Tuesday by a vote of 37 to 58.

The Farm, Ranch, Equity, Stewardship and Health (FRESH) Act amendment would protect 85% of crop revenue at the county level for all farmers. It would have increased specialty crop funding by an additional $770 million, increased conservation spending by an additional $1.2 billion, provided an additional $1 billion to expand research into new bio-fuels and deployment of rural renewable energy projects and provided $75 million for socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers.

Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN) the former Agriculture Committee chairman who was the bill's main author, pointed out that the current commodity program benefits mainly a small number of large farmers.

"This bill is about making choices," Lugar told members of the Senate. "And it is incredible to me that with all of the budgetary pressures that we are facing to fund critical needs such as providing better health insurance coverage for Americans, protecting Social Security and pension savings, improving education, increasing border security, and providing our men and women in the Armed Forces with appropriate pay and equipment that we would consider a bill which enriches so few individuals."

The bill had bipartisan support. Its cosponsor was Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ). Other Democrats who voted for it included Senators John Kerry and Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts. Republicans included Chuck Hagel of Nebraska and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania.

But key agricultural leaders, including the current Agriculture Committee Chairman, Tom Harkin (D-IA), voted against it.

Harkin said he agreed with some of its goals, including doing away with direct payments. With commodity prices at or near record levels, "it's hard to make an argument for direct payments. I can't," Harkin told reporters earlier Tuesday.

But he couldn't support the FRESH Act.

"The problem is, it just moves too far, too fast," he said.

The first amendment voted on when the Senate got back to work on a farm bill, one which would have ended commodity programs in favor or a broader crop insurance program, was defeated Tuesday by a vote of 37 to 58.

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