Vilsack urges House to revive, pass stymied farm bill
The balkanized U.S. House needs to revive and pass the new U.S. farm law, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said on Tuesday after rallying rural activists to demand action on the legislation which is now in limbo.
"There ought to be outrage," he said, in response to the House defeat of the five-year bill last week. It was the first time ever a farm bill was rejected in a House roll call.
Vilsack, the Obama administration leader on farm and food policy, said he opposed another extension of current law. Analysts say that is the easiest and most likely method to end the impasse.
"Figure it out. Work with the other side," Vilsack said in blunt comments directed at Republican leaders. "It can be done. It needs to be done ... the time for excuses is over."
With a 35-vote majority, House Republicans often write bills to meet their wishes and expect to pass them with a "majority of the majority," as the practice is known. Few compromises with Democrats are needed in that approach.
On the farm bill, 62 Tea Party-influenced Republicans, who wanted deeper cuts, joined 172 Democratic defenders of food stamps to defeat the bill, 234-195. Only 24 Democrats voted for the bill while a quarter of the 234 Republicans opposed it.
Republican leaders have not announced how they will proceed on the farm bill. And with the Independence Day recess approaching, they deferred debate on the Agriculture Department budget. It could have sparked new arguments on farm bill issues.
Food stamps for the poor was the decisive dispute during the House debate. The bill called for the largest cut in a generation in food stamps. During debate, Republicans added work rules for recipients that Democrats said were unduly harsh.
Republican Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa suggested to reporters the way to revive the House bill was to cut less from food stamps, although he said it would be difficult to persuade many fiscally conservative Republicans to change their minds. "There are 50 Republicans going to vote 'no' regardless," he said.
Private consultant John Schnittker said it would be difficult to cobble together a farm-bill majority, given the irreconcilable positions taken by Republican and Democratic hard-liners. A successful bill may require support from both parties.
"But (Speaker John) Boehner cannot afford another failure, so finding a politically secure route in the House is next to impossible," said Schnittker.
Vilsack followed Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in ruling out an extension of the 2008 farm law. It expired last fall but lawmakers agreed to extend it to Sept. 30 after the farm bill died without a vote in the House. The Senate passed a farm bill in 2012 and again on June 10 that cuts food stamps by $4 billion over 10 years, compared to the House's $20 billion cut.
In a speech to the National Rural Assembly, a conference for rural activists, Vilsack said rural Americans should press for passage of a farm bill.
Shortly before he spoke, pollsters said a survey of rural voters in the Midwest, Plains and Southeast states found three-quarters of them believe big farms get too large a share of farm subsidies, to the detriment of smaller family farms.