The fight to pass a five-year farm bill in the House of Representatives foundered Thursday in an embarrassing defeat for the Republican leadership that left no clear path for how to overcome the differences that caused its downfall.
The vote of 195-234 resulted from divisions between Republicans and Democrats and between Republicans and Republicans. More than a quarter of the House Republican caucus – 62 representatives – opposed its party leadership on the vote.
The defeat marks the second time within the past year that Congress has been unable – at least so far – to renew the five-year farm legislation, last adopted in 2008.
“I’m obviously disappointed, but the reforms . . . are so important that we must continue to pursue them,” Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Okla., chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, said in a statement afterward. “We are assessing all of our options, but I have no doubt that we will finish our work in the near future and provide the certainty that our farmers, ranchers and rural constituents need.”
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The bill’s failure signals another instance when House Speaker John Boehner was unable to control his caucus and had to walk away empty-handed from a vote that he wanted to win in a chamber that he controls.
“The farm bill failed to pass the House today because the House Republicans could not control the extreme right wing of their party,” said Rep. Collin Peterson of Minnesota, the ranking Democrat on the Agriculture Committee. “From day one I cautioned my colleagues that to pass a farm bill we would have to work together.”
Republican amendments at the last minute caused some Democrats to abandon the bill, he said. But the bill drew widespread Democratic opposition – only 24 Democrats supported it – largely because of a $20.5 billion proposed cut in food stamps over 10 years. The Senate’s bipartisan version, which it passed last week, increased food stamp aid by nearly $4 billion over that same period.
Republicans who opposed the bill cited its $940 billion price tag at a time when the country is grappling with a $17 trillion debt.
“While there were some strong, positive (agriculture) and rural policies in the bill, I could not vote for a bill that locks in the massive expansion of the food stamp program and spends nearly 80 cents of every dollar on food stamps,” Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kan., part of a group of conservative lawmakers often at odds with Boehner.
Farm commodity groups, which count on a reliable delivery of crop subsidies, expressed their concern.
“The National Corn Growers Association is extremely disappointed,” Pam Johnson, the group’s president, said in a statement. “Up to the last minute our organization has actively and consistently called for passage of the legislation.”
Bob Stallman, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, said farmers and ranchers need “certainty for the coming years.”
Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, said her chamber passed its bill, which would end direct payments to farmers and cut spending – also elements of the House bill – without too many difficulties.
Both Lucas and Peterson said the House Agriculture Committee would go back to work and try to design a bill that would satisfy enough members to pass.