The House broke with decades of tradition Thursday afternoon and passed a Republican-crafted farm bill that doesn’t include funding for food stamps, infuriating Democrats and setting up a potential clash with the Senate over how to pay for farmers’ aid and nutrition programs.
House Republican leaders, eager to overcome the chamber’s surprising defeat last month of a comprehensive farm bill, succumbed to the wishes of its conservative flank and outside groups and offered a five-year agriculture subsidies-only measure.
The 216-208 vote was largely along party lines, with no Democrat supporting the bill and 12 Republicans rejecting it. Food stamp funding, which has been included in farm bills since 1977, will be dealt with separately at a later date.
The Republican-controlled House now faces a showdown over farmer subsidies and food stamp funding with the Democrat-led Senate, which last month passed its version of the farm bill — which included food stamp funding — with a wide bipartisan majority.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., called the bill’s passage a “victory for farmers and conservatives who desired desperately needed reforms to these programs.”
“The work will now continue, and we hope Senate Democrats will not obstruct reform because the status quo isn’t working,” he said.
Farm bills usually are among the most bipartisan legislative endeavors in Congress, as lawmakers from farm states, regardless of party, work to ensure their success while those from urban areas lend their support because of the food stamp provisions. But since last year, when the House failed to even bring a farm bill to the floor for a vote, conservatives have pushed to divorce food stamps from agriculture subsidies and farmers’ insurance programs, saying the issues are unrelated.
Food stamps, officially called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, accounted for about 80 percent of the initial House bill’s almost $1 million cost. Cantor pushed for the two-bill approach as a way to win back support of the 62 House members who rejected last month’s version.
Democrats cried foul, accusing Republicans of neglecting the poor who are dependent on federally subsidized food. And they complained the massive bill was unfairly rushed through the chamber, having been introduced late Wednesday night.
Rep. Collin Peterson of Minnesota, the senior Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee, said splitting up the bill could lead to further gridlock on the measure and delay aid to farmers — a position shared by the agriculture industry.
“Doing the exact opposite of what everyone with a stake in this bill urges you to do does not make sense and is not the way to achieve success,” Peterson said. “I don’t see a clear path forward from here.”
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said it was “amateur hour to the nth degree” for House GOP leaders to hold a vote on the bill less than 24 hours after introducing it.
But House GOP leaders said that since the bill is almost identical to the agricultural portion of last month’s failed version, lawmakers have had plenty of time to study it.
“It is an unusual situation, not something that I would prefer to do,” said Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio. “But the bill that we’ve got on the floor is the same bill that was on the floor about three weeks ago, with the exception of one or two sentences.”
House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla. vowed to immediately work on a separate food stamp bill, adding that the measure could be reinserted into a final compromise version hammered out by House and Senate negotiators.
“I commit to you I’ll work on that [food stamp] piece as hard and as diligently as we can,” Lucas said.
Several influential conservative groups that pressed House Republicans for a two-bill approach said putting food stamp funding back into a main farm bill would be a disingenuous move by party leaders who vowed reforms.
“We highly suspect that this whole process is a ‘rope-a-dope’ exercise … where a bicameral backroom deal will reassemble the [agriculture] commodity and food stamp titles, leaving us back where we started,” said a statement from the Club for Growth.