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Votes end years-long debate on legislation

North Carolina senators split their votes on a massive $956 billion farm bill Tuesday, putting an end to three years of debate on the measure and sending it to President Barack Obama’s desk for signature.

The bill, which easily cleared a House vote last week, was approved by the Senate in a roll call of 68-32.

U.S. Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC)

U.S. Sen. Richard Burr, a North Carolina Republican, was one of 23 members among his party to vote “no.” Earlier in the week, Burr sided with the majority of senators in a procedural vote to end debate on the legislation.

In an emailed statement, the senator cited the bill’s overall cost, along with its failure to lift “burdensome” restrictions on farmers as the basis for his opposition.

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“Not only does it carry a nearly $1 trillion price tag but most of the funding has nothing to do with farming, let alone providing any certainty to farmers,” Burr said.

U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan (D-NC)

Burr’s counterpart, Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan, offered her support to the bill, which included a handful of provisions she helped to secure.

Among the amendments added by Hagan were provisions to add resources to the U.S. Department of Agriculture to combat crop insurance fraud along with funding for a program which provides technical assistance to farmers returning from military service.

Hagan also worked to ensure the bill fully funded a payment-in-lieu-of-taxes (PILT) program, which provides added revenue to counties that include large tracts of federally owned land, which cannot be taxed.

Many Western North Carolina counties benefit from PILT revenues.

In last week’s House vote, Western North Carolina’s Republican U.S. Reps. Mark Meadows and Patrick McHenry supported the bill. Rep. Virginia Foxx, whose district includes Watauga County, was one of 65 Republicans to vote “no.”

The 959-page legislation will eliminate a system of direct subsidy payments made to farmers regardless of profit or crop plantings and replace it with an expanded crop insurance program. It also cuts $8 billion in funding for food stamps, formally known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

The reduction in SNAP targets an option for added benefits offered to households who are also on federal heating assistance. The option is embraced by 16 states, not including North Carolina, meaning the state’s 1.6 million residents who are receiving some form of SNAP benefit will not be affected.

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At least $200 million of the cuts to SNAP will be put back toward creating work-training programs in 10 states for those already on SNAP rolls. In addition, $205 million will go toward increased assistance for food banks, according to a Wall Street Journal report.

According to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, the bill is estimated to eliminate $16.6 billion from the federal deficit over the next decade.

James Harrison

James Harrison is a contributing reporter with Carolina Public Press. Reach him at jharrison@carolinapublicpress.org.

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