FRANKFORT, Ky. — Matt Bevin accused Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of failing taxpayers by supporting a federal farm bill that the Republican challenger condemned as a "massive overreach" by the government.
"America is becoming more and more dependent on the government," Bevin said Wednesday, a day after the Senate passed the sweeping legislation. "This farm bill is yet another example of exactly that."
Agriculture is a big business in Kentucky, and McConnell's campaign said Bevin's criticism showed the Louisville businessman is out of touch with rural issues.
"If Bevin ever spoke to our farmers, he would understand the importance of this bill to Kentucky agriculture," said McConnell campaign spokeswoman Allison Moore.
The nearly $100 billion-a-year farm bill would provide a financial cushion for farmers who face unpredictable weather and market conditions.
It provides subsidies for rural communities and environmentally sensitive land. Most of the cost, however, goes to the food stamp program, which aids 1 in 7 Americans.
Bevin said the cost of the program showed McConnell had failed taxpayers.
"Between the federal government's massive overreach into the free markets and the fact that 80 percent of spending is going to welfare programs, this is a sad excuse for a farm bill," Bevin said in a statement.
The measure, sent to President Barack Obama, would cut food stamps by $800 million a year, or around 1 percent.
Bevin is challenging McConnell in the May 20 primary in Kentucky.
McConnell, the longest-serving U.S. senator in Kentucky history, is seeking a sixth term this year. He faces Bevin in the May 20 primary in Kentucky. On the Democratic side, the front-runner is Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes.
Grimes praised the Senate vote and said the new farm bill was overdue.
"The badly needed farm bill gives our farmers the certainty they deserve — something Mitch McConnell's Washington gridlock left them without for far too long," she said in a statement.
Kentucky's farm economy has been booming, with total cash receipts headed toward a record $6 billion last year. The state's farm sector surpassed $5 billion in cash receipts, or gross sales, for the first time ever in 2012. The state's diverse farm operations include equine, poultry, cattle, grain and tobacco.
Senate passage of the farm bill Tuesday won praise from the state's most influential farm group.
"This legislation provides our farmers with the stability needed to continue producing an abundant and safe food supply," said Mark Haney, president of the Kentucky Farm Bureau.
The farm bill includes language allowing the startup of pilot hemp-growing programs in Kentucky and some other states.
Hemp once was a prominent crop in the Bluegrass state. Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner James Comer has said his department plans to issue hemp-growing licenses in time for a small crop to be planted this year.
McConnell played a key role in inserting the hemp language into the farm bill, saying the crop could eventually boost the state's rural economy.
"I have heard from many Kentuckians who see this as a first step to establishing a market for industrial hemp in Kentucky," McConnell said Tuesday.
Kentucky lawmakers passed legislation last year that would allow industrial hemp to be reintroduced, but only if the federal government allows its production.
Hemp was historically used for rope but has hundreds of other uses: clothing and mulch from the fiber, foods such as hemp milk and cooking oil from the seeds, and creams, soap and lotions.
But the plant was swept up in anti-drug efforts and growing it without a federal permit was banned in the 1970 Controlled Substances Act. Hemp and marijuana are the same species, Cannabis sativa. Marijuana, however, is cultivated to dramatically increase THC, a psychoactive chemical that exists in trace amounts in hemp.