The House has rejected a five year, half-trillion-dollar farm bill that would have cut $2 billion annually from food stamps and let states impose broad new work requirements on those who receive them.
The bill, covering both agricultural subsidies and food stamps, forced a financial tug of war over programs having little to do with each other. Democrats objected to the cuts in food stamps, which were five times higher than in the Senate bill. But food stamp cuts weren't deep enough for many Republicans.
“This is very, very atypical in the farm bill process for the House as a whole to effectively tell the Agricultural Committee, ‘You screwed up and this is an unsatisfactory bill,’” said Vince Smith, a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. “This is actually a stunning event in the legislative history around farm policy.”
The vote was 234-195 against the bill, with 62 mainly conservative Republicans voting against it. The Conservative Action Project, among several other think tanks, had voiced its public opposition to the House bill today, saying the "bill before the House is merely increasing food stamps spending and corporate cronyism for agricultural special interests."
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The sides were in a 50-50 bipartisan split Wednesday night, Smith said, but in the end, only 24 Democrats voted in favor of the legislation. They feared 2 million people would lose food stamp benefits. The program’s nearly $80 billion-a-year cost—double what it was just five years ago—now makes up 80 percent of the farm bill. The addition of the optional state work requirements by an amendment just before final passage turned away even more Democratic supporters from the usually bipartisan bill.
Minnesota Rep. Collin Peterson, the senior Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee, said the work requirements, along with another vote that scuttled a proposed dairy overhaul, turned too many lawmakers against the measure: “Our people didn't know this was coming.”
A bipartisan measure to reform Food for Peace, the international food aid program, also failed. The measure would have allowed relief agencies to purchase up to 45 percent of international food aid in-country. Such a practice would cost less and support farmers in those needy countries, instead of undercutting them by shipping U.S. farmers’ overproduction. But instead of increasing aid to an estimated 4 million needy people overseas without spending an extra penny, the House fixated largely on SNAP.
Debbie Wasserman Schultz, chair of the Democratic National Committee, called today’s result a “victory for the hungry in America.” Tim Phillips, president of the conservative Americans for Prosperity, also praised the result: “We hope Congress will now start over from scratch, and craft more responsible legislation that supports good policy and sustained economic growth.”
This is the second year in a row the House has ended the farm bill process, and Smith “hasn’t a clue right this minute” what the next step is: “It is now quite conceivable that the compromise that will be developed is simply an extension of the current  bill.”