Farm bill: Now what?
What just happened on the floor of the U. S. House of Representatives? For many, including some Members, the unthinkable happened when only 171 Republicans and 24 Democrats voted to support the House version of the Farm Bill.
A blank was fired in 2012 when the product of the House Ag Committee was not even called for a vote. Now, the leadership of the House fired a live round into its foot when the last few Democratic supporters were alienated just ahead of H.R. 1947 being called for a final vote.
Lots of finger pointing
The final vote count was 171 Republicans and 24 Democrats voting yes, while 62 Republicans and 172 Democrats were voting no on the omnibus agriculture and food policy designed to take effect in October and run through 2018. Most of the Democrats voted against the bill because of the cuts made to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). However, a few hung on until the last amendment was passed, which required SNAP recipients to work or look for work, and Rep. Collin Peterson said many of them withdrew their support of the bill at that point. Peterson is the Ranking Democratic Member of the House Agriculture Committee, who tried to gather enough Democrats to support the bill, even after his own plan for dairy price supports was targeted for change by the vice chairman of the House Ag Committee, Rep. Bob Goodlatte.
When the final vote was tallied, Peterson and the other 23 Democratic supporters of the bill pointed to the SNAP amendment as a nail in the coffin. But not all of the Republicans in the House voted for the bill, including Ag Committee Vice Chairman Goodlatte. He and 61 other Republicans voted no, many of them contending the 3 percent cut to SNAP funding was insufficient and the overall $926 billion (10 year) cost of the legislation was too much. One of the Republican supporters was Speaker John Boehner, who dislikes farm policy legislation, but publicly announced earlier in the week he would vote for the bill in an attempt to rally enough of his Republican colleagues to vote in favor. The defeat can be seen as a blow to his leadership, and he had little to say after the vote.
What happens now?
House Ag Committee Chairman Frank Lucas says a new version of the Farm Bill will be forthcoming within days. But what would it look like, if Republicans want more cuts and Democrats want fewer cuts? The Republican leadership will have the option of presenting a strictly Republican bill designed to get a majority vote just from their party, and pass the bill without any Democratic support. While it is difficult to say what that bill would look like, the common denominator among Republicans will be reduced spending. If that is the case, there would be fewer dollars allocated for nutrition programs, crop insurance, and other typical Farm Bill elements. While it may be possible to pass such a pared down version in the House, it would have to be reconciled with the Senate, and such a philosophy would have an even lesser chance than did the bill that was defeated on Thursday.