It was a sight these days you don’t see too often and you might not see again until after the election.
The Senate legislated.
With many senators taking the rare step to work on the floor of the U.S. Senate, for over ten hours yesterday and four hours today they painstakingly voted on over 70 amendments to the farm bill.
At the end of it all they passed the bill by a vote of 64-35, setting the nation’s agricultural and food policy for the next five years.
The nearly $1 trillion bill, notorious in years past for being laden with pork, saves taxpayers more than $23 billion this time around, mostly by eliminating direct payments for certain crops to farmers but also through savings to conservation programs and food stamps, and eliminating some subsidies and duplication.
But at the same time, the bill expands crop insurance, with taxpayers paying nearly $9 billion a year for farmers’ protection against things like droughts and floods.
The bill also still has some some pork in its 1,010 pages, including $91 million to subsidize popcorn growers and $25 million to study the health benefits of garbanzo beans, peas and lentils.
There were some non relevant amendments passed within the bill as well, including an amendment by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., calling on the White House, DOD and OMB to release reports on the impact of sequestration across the federal budget.
But those things aside, it’s clear the effect of this bill on Capitol Hill — at least in the high hopes of Senators for now — has everything to do with tone.
With Congress’ bitter divisions and repeated threats of government shutdowns, Senators from both sides today hailed this legislation as embodying the way the Senate used to work and how it should work now.
“Everyone can feel we’re accomplishing something,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said today, “Some of the votes were difficult and some — we all wish we hadn’t taken some, they were tough votes. But that’s what the senate is all about. I feel comfortable with the last bit that we’re trying to work together for the good of the country.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., seconded his motion.
“I agree entirely that the senate, it seems to me, is sort of getting back to operating the way the senate traditionally has,” McConnell said, “I think the way we’ve handled the farm bill and other measures to which he’s referred in recent months has been a very important step in the right direction.”
Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kansas, the ranking Republican on the Senate Agriculture Committee, said that this bill has the potential to break the “logjam” on Capitol Hill.
“The senate has not been in regular order over the last three years,” Roberts said, “maybe we’ve done something special here in signaling to the American people that in the middle of a tough election year we can actually get something done.”
The bill now heads to the House of Representatives for their consideration — where it faces all but certain resistance from House Republicans.