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President Obama to Sign Farm Bill at MSU on Friday

Original Publication: Detroit Free Press, February 04, 2014
Article Author:
February 06, 2014

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama will sign the farm bill — a massive piece of legislation that after years of congressional wrangling finally won final passage Tuesday in the U.S. Senate — while visiting East Lansing on Friday.

The White House confirmed that Obama will sign the bill, which was shepherded to final passage by U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., following an event at Michigan State University in the early afternoon Friday where he will discuss the legislaton’s importance to the economy. Stabenow is the chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee.

While in East Lansing, the president will also “see firsthand the research that institutions like MSU are doing to create jobs and drive innovation that benefits farmers, ranchers, our rural communities, and our nation as a whole,” the White House said. No other details were immediately available.

The event is to be held at the Mary Anne McPhail Equine Performance Center in East Lansing.

“I think when it comes to a farm bill it makes a lot of sense to sign it at our premier agricultural research facility rather than in Washington, D.C.,” said Stabenow, who, as a Michigan State graduate, allowed herself to show a bit of pride in her alma mater.

Tuesday’s 68-32 vote in the Senate, meanwhile, culminated some three years of work on the legislation, which initially split over cuts to food stamps. It was approved in the Republican-led U.S. House last week after leadership finally settled on a compromise measure.

The legislation will cost about $500-billion over five years and, over the course of 10 years, trim $23 billion from the deficit compared to previous measures. Some Republicans argued it didn’t cut enough, while some liberal Democrats refused to back reductions to food stamp spending in the bill.

The Washington-based Taxpayers for Common Sense group also carped that the bill increases special interest subsidies “for one of the most profitable sectors of our economy,” while doing little if anything to address the national debt.

But the legislation ends the practice of providing direct payments to farmers while keeping other price-loss protections in place. Supporters say its provisions could greatly help Michigan growers of cherries, apples and blueberries because it increases programs boosting so-called specialty crops, and for the first time expands crop insurance to fruit and vegetable growers.

The Michigan Farm Bureau prasied the bill, saying it ends years of uncertainty for growers and moves “away from controversial direct payments to growers.

“Obviously this is welcome news for farmers in Michigan and across the country,” said Wayne H. Wood, president of the Michigan Farm Bureau. Stabenow, he said, “worked like a farmer to keep this bill moving forward, making fixes and fine-tuning all the little moving parts.”

The legislation has been a long time coming, the last farm bill being approved in 2008. The Democratic majority in the Senate helped approve a previous farm bill, but it failed in the House when Republicans couldn’t intially settle on how to handle the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP — otherwise known as food stamps — and how much to cut from that subtitle.

As passed, the legislation trims $8-billion from food stamps — more than the $4 billion cut in the earlier Senate bill, but less than the $40 billion initially proposed in the House.

The legislation makes its cuts by reducing waste and abuse in the program and reining in a mechanism by which some states awardextra food stamp benefits to individuals and families that received token amounts of home heating assistance. Winners of substantial lottery or other gambling prizes also will no longer be able to collect food stamp benefits.

“This is not your father’s farm bill,” Stabenow said. “There are a lot of reforms in this farm bill.”

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