Updated 6:15 p.m. ET
The Senate is back from recess and is expected to pass the farm bill this week, legislation that sets agricultural policy and funding levels for food stamps.
The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the bill will cost taxpayers $955 billion over the next 10 years. About 80 percent of this money will go to nutrition assistance programs, such as food stamps, for the needy. The rest of the money will pay for other provisions, primarily crop insurance subsidies for farmers as well as conservation, renewable energy and other agriculture programs.
The biggest change in this farm bill from years past is the elimination of the direct payments that the federal government gives to farmers, even during times of successful crop yields. This bill instead transitions to a risk management system that supports farmers only when they are hurt by weather disasters or fluctuating commodity prices.
In past years during the old direct payment system, the government would sometimes pay farmers not to grow crops. This new system would have the government step in only to keep farms afloat if they are suffering from losses due to events beyond the farmers control and will help subsidize crop insurance.
Some other changes in this year's farm bill include increased support and funding for community farmers' markets to promote Americans eating more locally grown food. It also includes programs designed to encourage younger Americans to enter into farming as a profession. The average farmer in the U.S. today is in his late 50s.
Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., who co-authored the bill, said that the farm bill will reduce the deficit while at the same time create jobs.
"Because the Agriculture Committee worked across party lines to cut unnecessary programs and streamline others, we were able to reduce the deficit while strengthening initiatives that boost exports, help family farmers sell locally and spur innovations in new bio-manufacturing and bio-energy industries," she said.
The bill has bipartisan support, and was co-written by Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., the top Republican on the Senate Agriculture Committee. Many Republican senators, and conservative groups, however, oppose the measure, because of the huge cost of the bill.
Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., voted against the bill in committee, saying: "The current climate of budgetary and fiscal restraint requires that we subject all areas of federal spending to close examination-no program can be exempt from reform, including the farm bill."
Many conservatives oppose all farm subsidies in principle, and the conservative-leaning think tank The Heritage Foundation released a study showing the family farms of high-profile names that have received subsidies since 1995, including farms owned by the families of former President Carter, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa and the wife of House Agriculture Committee chairman Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Okla
The White House has declared its support for the Senate bill, and released a statement saying: "It is critical that the Congress pass legislation that provides certainty for rural America and includes needed reforms and savings."
The House Agriculture Committee passed a similar version of the bill, which included deeper cuts to food assistance programs. House Agriculture Committee chairman Lucas called the bill "a responsible and balanced bill that addresses Americans' concerns about federal spending and reforms farm and nutrition policy to improve efficiency and accountability."
The full House is expected to vote on their bill sometime in June or July. Both the House and the Senate each hope to pass their respective farm bills and then push through a final bill for the president's signature before the current farm bill expires at the end of September.
Editor's note: An earlier version of this story used figures from the 2012 version of this bill. The story has been corrected to reflect estimates from the 2013 version.