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Senate passes farm bill

Early Thursday afternoon the U.S. Senate passed a farm bill, the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2012, by a vote of 64-35, four more than the 60 votes required.

The relatively narrow margin of victory was due in part to opposition from senators from southern states. Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA) said she opposed it in the final vote because she doesn't believe it does enough for her state's rice farmers. "I cast the vote against the bill to send a signal that a more work needs to be done," she said on the Senate floor after the vote.

Just before the vote, after wrapping up a third day of voting on amendments, Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) thanked her colleagues for their patience and "for supporting this bipartisan effort…"

"I especially want to thank my ranking member, Senator [Pat] Roberts (R-KS)," she said. "Senator Roberts is my friend and my partner in this effort and I'm very grateful."

Stabenow said the farm bill will benefit the 16 million Americans with jobs tied to agriculture and its related industries as well as providing certainty for farmers and ranchers, "the men and women who work hard from sunrise to sunset" producing food. And it will support a sector of the economy with strong exports.

The bill also brings major reforms to agricultural programs, she said, including an end to direct payments.

"We're putting in place the most significant payment reforms ever," she said "I want to thank Senator Grassley for his tenacity…" referring to Senator Chuck Grassley, the Iowa Republican on the committee who has fought for decades to tighten up payment limits and loopholes that have been used to circumvent them. She also thanked Senator Tim Johnson (D-SD), not a member of the committee but a consistent partner with Grassley on that issue.

The bill trims more than $23 billion from federal spending over the next 10 years. Stabenow said it's "probably the only opportunity to vote on deficit reduction in a bipartisan way on the Senate floor in the next number of months."

Roberts agreed that the bill will be a rare chance to trim federal spending with bipartisan support.

He said that the committee's markup of the bill in 4 1/2 hours in April set a record and praised the Senate's consideration of 73 amendments in the past 2 1/2 days.

"This is a good bill. Is it the best possible bill? No. Is is the best bill possible," he said, urging his colleagues to support it.

Stabenow and Roberts were given most of the credit for getting the bill through the SEnate by the Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV). Reid praised "the leadership of these two fine senators."

The Minority Leader, Mitch McConnell, praised Reid for the way amendments were allowed in the bill's consideration, including some that weren't germane to the bill, dealing with how mandatory spending cuts will affect federal programs and wage rules under the National Labor Relations Act.

"This is one of the finest moments in the Senate in recent times, in terms of how we pass a bill," McConnell said.

The next step in getting a farm bill passed, if it happens this year, will be in the House of Representatives.

Reid held the Senate up as an example. "I hope our friends in the House see what we've done. We're working together," he said, adding that the House can as well.

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