Tea Party opposition thwarts GOP farm bill in HouseThe 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.
By: Trevor Graff, McClatchy Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON — 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 234-195 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 vote even found Minnesota representatives Rick Nolan, a Democrat, and Michele Bachmann, a Republican, in agreement in their opposition to the bill, though for different reasons.
The defeat marks the second time within the past year that Congress has been unable 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.
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 main reason is the rump group of Tea Party-aligned conservatives who do not take orders from their party leadership. A look at the Republican votes against the legislation reads like a “who’s who” of Tea Party icons: Bachmann, Justin Amash of Michigan, Paul Broun of Georgia, Steve Stockman of Texas.
“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 1 I cautioned my colleagues that to pass a farm bill, we would have to work together.”
The bill also drew widespread Democratic opposition — only 24 Democrats supported it — largely because of a $20.5 billion proposed cut in food stamps over 10 years.
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,” said Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kan., part of a group of conservative lawmakers often at odds with Boehner.
The Senate overwhelmingly passed its version of the farm bill last week, with about $2.4 billion a year in overall cuts and a $400 million annual decrease in food stamps — one-fifth of the House bill’s food stamp cuts. The White House was supportive of the Senate version but had issued a veto threat of the House bill.
If the two chambers cannot come together on a bill, farm-state lawmakers could push for an extension of the 2008 farm bill that expires in September or negotiate a new bill with the Senate and try again.
Some conservatives have suggested separating the farm programs and the food stamps into separate bills. Farm-state lawmakers have for decades added food stamps to farm bills to garner urban votes for the rural bill. But that marriage has made passage harder this year.
Though passage had been in the balance all week, the vote against the bill was larger than many expected. When the final vote count was read, House Democrats cheered loudly, led by members of the Congressional Black Caucus who had fought the food stamp cuts.
The defeat also is a major victory for conservative taxpayer groups and environmental groups who have unsuccessfully worked against the bill for years. Those groups have aggressively lobbied lawmakers in recent weeks, hoping to capitalize on the more than 200 new members of the House since the last farm bill passed five years ago. Many of those new members are conservative Republicans who replaced moderate rural Democrats who had championed farm policy.
Farm commodity groups, which count on a reliable delivery of crop subsidies, expressed their dismay.
“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.”
Peterson said the bill still could pass if brought back to the House minus Republican amendments tacked on Thursday to restrict food stamp payments and change how the federal dairy program operates.
When amendments began to be put onto the bill, Peterson said, he could see Democrats peeling away. He got fewer than half of the 50 Democratic votes he expected for the bill.
Forum Communications, the Associated Press and the Washington Post contributed to this report.