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Farm bill clears hurdle in Senate, final vote seen Tuesday

Stalks of soft red winter wheat are seen on a farm in Dixon, Illinois, July 16, 2013. REUTERS/Jim Young
Stalks of soft red winter wheat are seen on a farm in Dixon, Illinois, July 16, 2013. REUTERS/Jim Young

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Long-delayed farm legislation easily cleared a procedural hurdle on Monday in the U.S. Senate, with final passage of the nearly $1 trillion bill expected as early as Tuesday.

The House of Representatives last week overwhelmingly passed the sweeping measure that trims food stamps for the poor, expands federal crop insurance, consolidates agricultural conservation programs and ends direct payments to farmers.

The 72-22 Senate vote in favor of advancing the bill suggests it should have no trouble passing the Democratic-led chamber when it comes up for a final vote, which could come on Tuesday.

The White House has said President Barack Obama would sign it into law.

"This is a new kind of farm bill designed to meet new challenges of a changing world," Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, a Michigan Democrat and one of the four principal negotiators of the legislation, said on the Senate floor before the vote.

"We are also making major reforms, eliminating unnecessary, and unjustified programs to cut government spending and to increase the integrity of farm programs," she said.

The $956 billion legislation is expected to save about $16.6 billion over 10 years compared with current funding, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Using a different scoring, congressional leaders put the savings at $23 billion.

The bill, which is supposed to be passed every five years, is more than a year overdue after congressional negotiators struggled to forge a compromise.

About $8 billion in savings over 10 years comes from cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly known as food stamps, which accounts for more than three-quarters of the bill's spending. The program provides funds to about 47 million low-income people to buy food.

The food stamp cut was well below the $40 billion reduction advocated by the Republican-led House, but still double the amount originally supported by the Senate.

(Reporting by Eric Beech; Editing by Peter Cooney)

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