- The Washington Times - Friday, October 21, 2011

Finding a rare piece of common ground when it comes to spending limits, Republicans and Democrats in the Senate voted overwhelmingly Friday morning to cut off federal farm payment handouts to farmers who already make more than $1 million a year.

The 84-15 vote was stunning not just for the size of support, but also for the coalition it assembled — liberal Democrats eager to target millionaires, and conservative Republicans who want to see federal spending trimmed.

“Rather than taxing millionaires, the first thing we ought to do is quit giving them subsidies,” said Sen. Tom Coburn, the Oklahoma Republican who offered the amendment to the massive spending bill the Senate was debating into the early morning hours Friday.

President Obama and his congressional allies have tried to impose a surtax on those with million-dollar incomes, but Republicans and a few Democrats have blocked those efforts each time, showing little stomach for tax increases.

Friday’s vote, though, suggests that there may be some appetite for a more surgical strike at benefits that go to the wealthy.

Opposition came chiefly from farm-state Republicans, though a handful of Democrats also opposed it.

They said they are already working on eliminating these farm payments, and said that issue will be tackled in a few weeks when they bring a broad farm bill to the floor.

“Give us the next 10 days to come forward with the new approach that we will be offering,” pleaded Sen. Debbie Stabenow, the Michigan Democrat who is chairwoman of the Agriculture Committee.

But the lure of sending a message about the limits of federal benefits proved too strong, and at the end of the vote a handful of Democrats even switched their votes to join Mr. Coburn’s effort.

Another of Mr. Coburn’s amendments, which would have withheld federal funds from slumlords who run dangerous public housing projects, failed by just one vote, 59-40, when 60 votes were needed.