WASHINGTON – The U.S. House voted down the farm bill on Friday as controversy over food stamps and immigration combined to sink the legislation at the last minute.
Rep. Collin Peterson, the highest-ranking Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee, and the rest of his party refused to support the measure because of opposition over the GOP’s plan to expand the group of food stamp recipients required to work. Thirty Republicans joined them after the conservative Freedom Caucus withheld support after negotiating for a separate deal on immigration.
“It’s unfortunate the Republicans chose to take this path, and it’s clear from their inability to get the necessary votes from within their own caucus that there are internal fractures they have to contend with,” Peterson said in a statement. “But this is a good opportunity for us to return to the table and fix this bill before we move forward.”
He added: “This job is too big for one party. … we don’t have to let this process be held hostage by the demands of the extremes of our parties. We can and should take the time to get the farm bill right.”
Republicans said the tougher work requirements will bring more people out of poverty and that only people who choose not to participate in work or job training will lose their benefits. Lawmakers debated the $868 billion bill for three days and considered 51 amendments before rejecting it 213-198. Friday’s failure follows the House’s defeat of the farm bill in 2013, when 62 Republicans sided with Democrats to scuttle the legislation.
Minnesota’s three GOP congressional members all backed the most recent bill.
“This farm bill gives certainty to American farmers and helps them continue to produce and distribute the best and lowest-cost food in the world,” Rep. Erik Paulsen, a Republican, said in a statement.
Rep. Tom Emmer, also a Republican, said that farmers in Minnesota and across the country need the reforms in the farm bill: improvements for dairy risk management, protections for crop insurance, investments to combat livestock epidemics, and his legislation to provide more mental health resources for farmers, ranchers and other agriculture workers who suffer high rates of depression and suicide.
“Today’s vote on the farm bill is not the end of the line. … All of these efforts will continue to move forward,” Emmer said in a statement.
Republicans had hoped to reshape the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), more commonly known as food stamps — a program that makes up 80 percent of spending in the five-year farm bill. They wanted to expand work requirements to food stamp recipients older than 50 and those who are parents of school-age children, and set aside $1 billion a year for job training programs to help.
Peterson withdrew from negotiations in March at the request of other Democrats on the House Agriculture Committee, a group that includes Reps. Tim Walz and Rick Nolan. Walz was the only member of the Minnesota delegation not to vote on the bill Friday.
House Speaker Paul Ryan “made them put that in there,” Peterson told the Star Tribune of the expanded work rules. Peterson said he hadn’t even talked to House Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway, a Texas Republican, in five weeks.
“Our caucus is offended by this SNAP language,” he added.
Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, a Kansas Republican, has indicated that he won’t support a farm bill that substantially changes the food stamp program. Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith, both Democrats, are members of the panel.
“The lesson is that strong bipartisan farm bills work and can pass,” said Smith. “The House bill didn’t meet that test and so it didn’t pass.”
She said she recently sat down with Roberts and Sen. Debbie Stabenow, the ranking Democrat, and that both affirmed their commitment to a bipartisan bill.
“A bill that would make the kind of changes to the SNAP program that were proposed in the House won’t pass in the Senate,” said Smith.
Speaking from the seat of his tractor as he planted soybeans in Blue Earth County, Kevin Papp said he was “not so surprised as disappointed” in the farm bill’s defeat. He added that injecting divisive issues into the farm bill is a recipe for failure.
“Bipartisan support works best,” said Papp, who is president of the Minnesota Farm Bureau.