Unexpected defeat brings shock, uncertainty to farmers.
This May 15, 2013 file photo shows stacks of paperwork awaiting members of the House Agriculture Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, May 15, 2013, as it meets to consider proposals to the 2013 Farm Bill. The House has rejected a five year, half-trillion-dollar farm bill that would have cut $2 billion annually from food stamps and let states impose broad new work requirements on those who receive them.
WASHINGTON – The House of Representatives stumbled over a divisive plan to cut food stamps and failed Thursday to pass a five-year farm bill.
The 234-195 defeat of the bill leaves the government scrambling for a long-term program to govern dozens of nutrition and agriculture programs. The 2008 farm bill, which expired last year, had to be extended through this year because the House failed to vote on an updated version in 2012.
Thursday’s defeat stunned Minnesota farmers and had them wondering about critical policies that protect their businesses.
“We’re terribly disappointed to get this far down the road and have the bill voted down,” Kittson County farmer Kelly Erickson said. “That’s not the outcome we were expecting. I don’t know what it means or where it goes. There’s uncertainty in the commodity [rules] and crop insurance we rely on to survive.”
The uncertainty also led to a new round of political rancor, with Democrats and Republicans blaming each other for Congress’ continuing inability to pass major farm legislation, which had not been a partisan issue in the past.
Minnesota Democrat Collin Peterson, a top player in the end-game of negotiations, said the defeat came about “because the House Republicans could not control the extreme right wing of their party.”
Opposition to the bill, however, was bipartisan, with 172 Democrats joining 62 Republicans in voting against the bill. Democrats mainly objected to cuts to nutrition programs, which make up the bulk of the bill.
Republican critics, including Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, complained that too much of the farm bill, almost $1 trillion over five years, would have gone to the food stamp program.
Peterson, the ranking minority member of the House Agriculture Committee, had predicted that the House’s Republican leadership would not bring the bill to a vote unless it had the support to pass.
“From Day 1, I cautioned my colleagues that to pass a farm bill we would have to work together,” Peterson said soon after the vote. “Instead, the House adopted a partisan amendment process, playing political games with extreme policies that have no chance of becoming law.”
Republicans fired back in an internal whip report obtained by the Star Tribune that blamed Peterson for not delivering the Democratic votes he promised.
“House Democrats promised 40 votes on final passage ...,” the report said. “This afternoon, Ranking Member Peterson alerted Chairman [Frank] Lucas [R-Ok] at the very last minute that he could not produce what he promised under pressure from both the White House and House Democratic leadership.”
Only 24 Democrats voted for the bill, with the opposition focused on $20.5 billion in cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the food stamp plan known as SNAP. The Republicans delivered 171 votes, including Minnesotans Erik Paulsen and John Kline, but still lost the support of more than a quarter of their caucus.
As a result Congress faces the unprecedented prospect of having to extend the old farm bill for a second year.
The alternative, said Peterson, is to get the Agriculture Committee’s version of the farm bill back on the floor and resist amendments.
“I think you may see some kind of process next week to bring something back,” Peterson predicted.
The bill’s failure even shocked its opponents.
“I didn’t expect it to be defeated,” said Rep. Keith Ellison, a Democrat who represents Minneapolis and is vice chairman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.