WASHINGTON — The U.S. House voted Thursday to pay tobacco farmers for giving up their government price supports.
Democrats are criticizing the move as a political ploy designed to win Southern support for a larger measure that would rewrite the nation's corporate tax code.
Lawmakers approved the $155 billion bill by a 251-178 vote. The bill includes nearly $10 billion for the tobacco buyout.
An estimated 400,000 tobacco quota holders would receive a share of the buyout, based on their "allotments." The allotments dictate how much they can grow each year.
Owners who farm using their own allotments would get $10 per pound of quota, or $7 per pound if they rent it to someone else to farm. In that case, the renting farmer would get $3 per pound.
North Carolina congressman Mike McIntyre said the buyout provides an opportunity for farmers to decide whether to keep farming tobacco or get out of the business.
According to WRAL reporter Mike Charbonneau, the buyout works this way:
The money would allow farmers who want to stop growing tobacco to collect and get out. Those who choose to stay in would get more money for their crop, even though they are growing less.
Right now, many farmers apparently are having trouble paying for land and equipment because the U.S. tobacco quota has been cut significantly over the years.
Tobacco can be grown and sold for much less overseas, making it tough for U.S. farmers to compete. The buyout would let them charge less and still turn a profit.
Gov. Mike Easley called Thursday's House vote "a major move forward for our tobacco farmers and quota holders.
"I want to thank our Congressional delegation, our farmers and others involved for working so hard on this critical legislation," Easley said.