House fails on the farm bill
By Larry Dreiling
The U.S. House of Representatives has rejected a five-year, $940 billion farm bill June 20 that would have cut $2 billion annually from food stamps and let states impose broad new work requirements on those who receive them.
Those cuts weren’t deep enough for most Republicans, who objected to the cost of the nearly $80 billion-a-year food stamp program, which has doubled in the past five years. The vote was 234 to 195 against the bill, with 62 Republicans voting against it.
The bill also suffered from lack of Democratic support necessary for the traditionally bipartisan farm bill to pass. Only 24 Democrats voted in favor of the legislation after many said the food stamp cuts could remove as many as 2 million recipients from the rolls.
The addition of optional state work requirements just before final passage, in the form of an amendment from Rep. Steve Southerland, R-FL, turned away many remaining Democratic votes. Democrats feared most states, controlled by Republican governors and legislators, would opt in favor of the work requirements, which, as written, could also require children to work in order to qualify for assistance.
Following the bill’s defeat, House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-OK, said that the committee is assessing all its options and will continue its work in the “near future.”
Just before the vote, Lucas pleaded with his colleagues’ support, saying that if the measure didn’t pass people would use it as an example of a dysfunctional Congress.
“I have tried in good faith, along with (Ranking Member Collin Peterson, D-MN) and every one of you to achieve consensus,” Lucas said. “We have to move this document forward to achieve a common goal.
“If it fails today I can’t guarantee you’ll see in this Congress another attempt,” he said.
For his part, Peterson said he believes the work requirements and a vote on an amendment by former Ag Committee Chair Bob Goodlatte of Virginia that scuttled a proposed dairy overhaul turned too many lawmakers against the measure.
“I had a bunch of people come up to me and say I was with you but this is it, I’m done,” Peterson said in an interview with a Fargo, N.D., radio station after the vote.
“I think the best solution that I can come up with is to take the House Agriculture Committee bill, which was bipartisan, which had over 50 votes from the Democrats—(House Majority Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland) thought there were 70. I don’t think there were that many. But there were clearly enough votes, along with the Republicans, to pass what came out of the committee. Bring that bill to the Rules Committee and put it on the floor, it’ll pass and get to conference. I think that’s the best solution, if people are willing to do it.”
House Speaker John Boehner voted for the bill but lobbied for the Goodlatte dairy amendment that caused some dairy-state lawmakers to eventually turn on the legislation. Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-VA, vocally supported the amendment that imposed the work requirements, coming to the House floor just before that vote and the final vote to endorse it.
“You know, what happened, it started with the dairy amendment, which got tangled up in the whole food stamp thing, and the idea, (they) put out misinformation that my dairy bill was going to raise the price of dairy products, and so a lot of Democrats defected and it passed by 300 and some votes, which was a shock. But right there I lost eight votes on the Democratic side just from that situation,” Peterson said.
Following the bill’s defeat, Hoyer—along with Cantor—both of whom voted for the bill, immediately took to the House floor and blamed the other’s party for the defeat.
Cantor said it was a “disappointing day” and that Democrats had been a “disappointing player.”
Hoyer suggested that Republicans voted for the food stamp work requirements to tank the bill.
“What happened today is you turned a bipartisan bill, necessary for our farmers, necessary for our consumers, necessary for the people of America, that many of us would have supported, and you turned it into a partisan bill,” he said.
A few days earlier, the Senate overwhelmingly passed its version of the farm bill, with about $2.4 billion a year in overall cuts and a $400 million annual decrease in food stamps—one-fifth of the House bill’s food stamp cuts. The White House was supportive of the Senate version but had issued a veto threat of the House bill.
It had been suggested that if the two chambers could not come together on a bill, then some farm-state lawmakers could push for an extension of the 2008 farm bill that expires in September.
Rejecting that idea, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-NV, said on the Senate floor June 24 that, “I want everyone within the sound of my voice, as well as my colleagues on the other side of the Capitol, to know that the Senate will not pass another temporary farm bill extension.”
Reid said the House should immediately take up the Senate farm bill and pass it in order to move the bill into a conference committee.
“We’ve seen this film before. The Speaker can’t jam through legislation that amounts to a partisan love note to the tea party,” Reid said. “Eventually he’ll be forced to take up a more bipartisan measure. But there’s no need to reinvent the wheel. The Senate has done the hard work already.
“The Speaker should dispense with the drama and the delay, and take up the Senate farm bill now. The bill passed on an overwhelming, bipartisan vote in this chamber.
Some conservatives have suggested separating the farm programs and the food stamps into separate bills. Since the 1960s, farm-state legislators joined food stamps to farm bills to garner urban votes for what was mostly a rural-oriented bill. But that marriage made chances of passage harder this year.
“Rural communities and families relying on nutrition assistance should not be held hostage to Republican incompetence,” Reid said.
Though passage has been in the balance all week, the vote against the bill was larger than many expected. When the final vote count was read, House Democrats cheered loudly, led by members of the Congressional Black Caucus who had fought the food stamp cuts.
The defeat is also a major victory for conservative taxpayer groups and environmental groups who have unsuccessfully worked against the bill for years. Those groups have aggressively lobbied lawmakers in recent weeks, hoping to capitalize on the more than 200 new members of the House since the last farm bill passed five years ago. Many of those new members are conservative Republicans who replaced moderate rural Democrats who had championed farm policy.
Those groups were emboldened after the vote.
“We need to put farm subsidies on a path to elimination and we need to devolve food stamps to the state level where they belong,” said Chris Chocola, president of the conservative advocacy group Club for Growth.
It was a stinging defeat, meanwhile, for many production agriculture groups. This statement, from the National Corn Growers Association, was typical:
“The National Corn Growers Association is extremely disappointed to see the House of Representatives fail to pass the 2013 farm bill. Up to the last minute our organization has actively and consistently called for passage of the legislation. We will be engaged in all efforts needed to secure passage in the House and bring the bill to Conference.”
But the sentiments of farm lobbyists were perhaps reflected best in a quote from the Washington publication The Hill: “We were shocked. We were watching the vote on TV and in the final minutes were saying, ‘What are they doing? This thing isn’t going to pass.’”
For his part, Peterson said he’d understand if farm-state residents would be unhappy about the continued uncertainty of farm programs.
“Now people want to blame us (Democrats), people want to blame the Republicans,” Peterson said. Frankly, people are tired of the parties blaming each other, and I don’t think we should even be talking about that. But people need to understand that when I passed the farm bill in 2008, I got 17 Republicans is all. So 24 was not what I expected, but it should have passed anyway. It didn’t.”
Mary Clare Jalonik of The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Larry Dreiling can be reached by phone at 785-628-1117, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.