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Senate votes to strip public funding from party conventions

- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 21, 2012

The Senate voted in a landslide to strip the Democratic and Republican national committees of public funding for their 2012 conventions and put the money toward reducing the national deficit instead, adding the measure to a five-year farm bill lawmakers approved Thursday.

If the amendment becomes law, the DNC and RNC will no longer be able to collect millions from the U.S. Treasury to help pay for catering, transportation, hotels, entertainment and the event space at their weeklong late-summer conventions — public spending sure to frustrate taxpayers as federal deficits continue to climb, lawmakers said.

"Ninety-nine percent of the Americans public has no idea that when they check the box we're going to take actual American dollars and subsidize party conventions for candidates that have already been decided," said Sen. Tom Coburn, the Oklahoma Republican who sponsored the measure.

The Coburn amendment was one of dozens lawmakers plodded through this week before passing a final version of the farm bill 64-35, with 13 Republicans voting for it and five Democrats opposing it. About four-fifths of the $970 billion bill funds the food stamp program, while the rest provides federal assistance for farmers and supports conservation programs.

Lawmakers agreed to a number of reforms in the legislation, dramatically restructuring the way farmers receive federal crop assistance by switching to a more market-based system that bases payments on yields and crop prices instead of dolling out payments more indiscriminately.

They carved out $23.6 billion in savings for the federal government over 10 years by cutting waste and fraud out of the food stamp program, consolidating conservation programs from 23 to 13, and switching to the crop insurance system.

And while lawmakers initially threatened to flood the bill with hundreds of amendments, potentially slowing down its progress, they agreed to speed up passage by limiting themselves to 73. With the current farm bill set to expire at the end of September, lawmakers are concerned they won't agree with the House on a final version in time.

"We've spent two-and-one-half days — I knew what you all expected, you expected two weeks," Sen. Pat Roberts, the Kansas Republican who co-sponsored the bill with Michigan Democrat Debbie Stabenow, told reporters. "You expected the normal 200 amendments, but we worked very hard to cut them down."

The passage was not without its bumps. Some Republicans made an unsuccessful attempt Wednesday to send the bill back to committee, complaining that the food stamp portion should be considered separately.

And lawmakers turned back attempts to tack on unrelated amendments, including one offered by Sen. Marco Rubio, Florida Republican, to permit employers to allow employers to give merit-based raises and bonuses to union workers without first getting the consent of labor leaders.

(Corrected paragraph:) But the Coburn amendment to ban public spending on political conventions achieved near-unanimous support, with lawmakers approving it 95-4. It was opposed by Louisiana's Mary Landrieu, California's Barbara Boxer, Maryland's Barbara A. Mikulski and West Virginia's John D. Rockefeller IV.

Now it's up to the Republican-led House to approve a version of the bill. Some Democrats fear that they could hold things by up by trying to find savings in food stamps after they voted to cut $34 billion from the program last month. But Senate leaders stuck to optimism Thursday, urging House leaders to act quickly on the rare bipartisan bill.

"Maybe we finally broke the logjam here and finally got back to regular order," Mr. Roberts said.

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