Lawmakers worry farm bill dead after House rejects bill

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Politics,Congress,Agriculture,Federal Budget,PennAve,Sean Lengell

As the House soundly rejected a multi-year farm bill Thursday, party leaders in the chamber's agriculture panel said they doubted Congress would get another crack this year at passing a comprehensive package to address crop subsidies, farmers' insurance and the national food stamp program.

"If it fails today, I can't guarantee you'll see in this session of Congress another attempt," said House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Oklahoma.

The committee's senior Democrat, Rep. Collin Peterson of Minnesota, agreed, saying that while he will continue "to do everything I can to get a farm bill passed. ... I have a hard time seeing where we go from here."

Lucus said the struggles of those who would have benefited from the bill, namely all Americans - farmers, consumers and food stamp recipients - now won't be addressed "in a balanced way."

The Oklahoma Republican also called out his colleagues who opposed the bill, saying the public will view the measure's failure as evidence of a do-nothing Congress.

"If you don't [support the bill] ... they'll just say it was a dysfunctional body, broken institution full of dysfunctional people," he said. "That's not true. You know that's not true."

Lucas added he tried in good faith to work with all members, regardless of party or region, "to move this document forward to achieve a common goal and to meet the needs of our citizens."

But Peterson blamed the bill's demise on the failure of House Republican leaders to "control the extreme right wing of their party."

"From day one I cautioned my colleagues that to pass a farm bill we would have to work together," he said. "Instead, the House adopted a partisan amendment process, playing political games with extreme policies that have no chance of becoming law."

The half-trillion dollar measure, which would have set the course for federal food policies for the next decade, failed by a vote of 195-234.

The bill - which easily cleared the House Agriculture Committee last month with broad bipartisan support - would have cut about $4 billion a year in overall spending on farm and nutrition programs, expanded crop insurance programs and created a new kind of crop insurance that kicks in before farmers' paid policies.

The most recent multiyear farm bill expired at the end of September, although programs continued through temporary funding extensions.

Farm bills typically are among the most bipartisan legislative matters on Capitol Hill, as lawmakers from agricultural states and districts -- despite party -- come together to ensure their success.

But a particularly nasty fight erupted over the bill's proposed $2 billion annual cuts to the food stamp program, with Democrats complaining the cuts were too severe and Republicans saying they didn't go far enough.

President Obama had threatened to veto the bill because of the food stamp cuts, saying it could leave some Americans hungry.

The administration instead has supported the Senate's version of the farm bill, which passed last week with significant bipartisan support and includes only a fifth of the amount House's proposed food stamp cuts, or about $400 million a year.

Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Michigan, chairman of the Senate agriculture panel, chastised the House -- and in particular Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio -- for failing to pass the measure, urged him to take up the Senate version.

"Maintaining the status quo means no reform, no deficit reduction and further uncertainty that slows growth in our agriculture industry," she said. "This is totally unacceptable."

That the House bill got a vote at all was an improvement over last year, when Boehner declined to bring a farm bill to the House floor in a move designed to avoid an intraparty fight during an election year, as farm state Republicans pushed for crop subsidies while other GOP conservatives demanded widespread cuts.

But with midterm elections more than a year-and-a-half away and the Senate passing its version 66-27, the speaker gambled that now was right time to try his luck on getting a farm bill through his chamber.

Mr. Boehner last week suggested his decision was based on "a number of positive reforms" in his chamber's bill, shepherded by Lucas -- most notably the food stamp cuts and provisions that would end direct payments to farmers.

The move backfired, as 62 Republicans defected and voted against the bill, joining 172 Democratic "no" votes. Twenty-four Democrats and 171 Republicans supported the measure.

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