Nearly $1 trillion in farm and food-stamp funding remains in political limbo after the House rejected a new farm bill and refused to even consider the Senate's version.
To ratchet up pressure on House Republicans, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., threatened to block any temporary funding for farm bill programs after Sept. 30, the end of the budget year, effectively shutting down those programs until the House acts and a new farm bill is approved. The bill's programs are being continued now under an extension of the 2008 farm bill, the last one the House passed."We don't have any kind of plan at this point," Rep. Collin Peterson, the top Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee, said after the House's stunning 234-195 defeat of a bipartisan bill both sides had expected to pass.
"Maintaining the status quo is not an option," Reid said. "Doing nothing means no reform, no deficit reduction and no certainty for America's 16 million farm-industry workers."
The House, however, has no intention of taking up the Senate bill, despite Reid's threat, aides told the Washington Examiner.
The House and Senate versions of the farm bill would both end direct federal payments to farmers and cut spending on food stamps, but the House bill costs $15 billion less and would cut food stamps spending by $20 billion, five times what the Senate proposes.
Lawmakers have months to resolve the problem, but if they fail it would mark the third year in a row in which Congress failed to pass a farm bill. That will increase pressure on the Republican leaders to craft a bill that could finally pass the GOP-led House.
The House had crafted a bipartisan, compromise farm bill, and hopes for passing it were high. But the effort's ultimate collapse has both parties pointing fingers of blame at the other.
Republicans accused Democrats of failing to deliver 40 promised votes after just 24 voted for the bill. Democrats countered that 62 Republicans voted against the bill, many because it didn't cut enough from the farm and food stamp programs.
Democrats charged that Republicans added amendments that made it impossible to support the overall bill, including new work requirements and drug testing for food stamp recipients.
"Why don't we drug test all the members of Congress," Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., chided during the debate. "Force everybody to go urinate in a cup. This is about demeaning poor people."
Both sides packed the bill with subsidies for favored food growers that were supposed to attract additional support for the measure but instead intensified conservative opposition.
Conservative and taxpayer-watchdog groups celebrated the defeat of the bill, saying it was laden with government pork and giveaways, including one program that would guarantee a price for certain crops, like rice and peanuts, and force taxpayers to subsidize those crops if the market didn't meet that price.
The bill would have ended a decades-old program of direct payments to farmers, but the groups and lawmakers complained that it also would have created a new and costly program to subsidize farm crop insurance.
Joshua Sewell, a senior policy analyst for Taxpayers for Common Sense, said Republicans should focus on ridding the bill of many of its subsidies, which would attract enough GOP support to pass the House.
Otherwise, the bill may fail a third time.
"The bill was a Christmas tree, with something in it for everybody, and in the past that worked," Sewell said. "But people are now worried about deficits and debt. This thing basically suffocated under its own weight."