WASHINGTON – The U.S. House on Wednesday overwhelmingly passed the final version of the farm bill that dictates most of the country's agricultural and food programs for the next five years.
The $867 billion measure heads to President Donald Trump, who is expected to sign it into law despite the elimination of a House GOP proposal to expand the group of food stamp recipients subject to work requirements. House Agriculture Chairman Mike Conaway, R-Texas, and the president had hailed the plan as a way to bring more Americans out of poverty, but critics argued that it would cut $20 billion from the food stamp program — known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) — and would unfairly deny benefits to the needy.
House Democrats walked away from negotiations on the farm bill earlier this year over the SNAP controversy, and even Senate Republicans signaled that they did not want to make substantive changes to the farm bill's nutrition program. After Democrats won back the House in November, Republicans lost their bargaining power.
A conference committee that included U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., ranking member of the House agriculture panel, finally reached a compromise this month as a bipartisan mix of lawmakers decided it did not want to crack down on SNAP and sought to support farmers amid sagging commodity prices and tariffs arising from a trade war with China. The House passed the bill 369-47.
"During a time when rural America is facing a downturn in the farm economy and a trade war that's taking its toll on crop, livestock and dairy producers from coast to coast, this bill will provide needed certainty to farmers and ranchers," Peterson said on the House floor Wednesday.
He did not mention SNAP in his remarks. Instead, he highlighted the bill's protections for struggling dairy farmers in Minnesota, Wisconsin and other rural areas where he said dairy farms were closing because of market conditions. The legislation, he said, would provide expanded, affordable coverage and greater flexibility. He also touted $300 million dedicated to animal disease programs.
On the House floor, Conaway said lawmakers had made "common sense reforms" and improved the integrity of SNAP through measures that hold states more accountable. Ultimately, he said, legislators had to make a decision between making as many reforms as they could or allowing "America's farmers and ranchers to be held hostage. ... I chose the route of getting this farm bill done."
U.S. Rep. Jason Lewis, a Republican, voted against the bill, though Minnesota's other GOP lawmakers, U.S. Reps. Tom Emmer and Erik Paulsen, supported it. U.S. Rep. Tim Walz, Minnesota's Democratic governor-elect and member of the House Agriculture Committee, did not vote, nor did U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, the state's Democratic attorney general-elect.
"This bill is exactly what Minnesota farmers deserve," Paulsen said. "It gives them the security and certainty they need to plan for the future."
The farm bill only advanced after Republicans inserted language into an associated procedural rule that barred a floor vote for the rest of 2018 on a resolution limiting U.S. intervention in war-torn Yemen. Lawmakers passed that rule 206-203 — with the votes of five Democrats, including Peterson — even as the Senate was poised to begin debating an end to America's presence in Yemen, which the United Nations says is facing the world's worst humanitarian crisis.