House Republicans successfully passed a Farm Bill Thursday by splitting apart funding for food stamps from federal agricultural policy, a move that infuriated the White House and congressional Democrats who spent most of the day trying to delay a final vote.
Lawmakers voted 216 to 208 to make changes to federal agricultural policy and conservation programs and end direct subsidy payments to farmers. But the measure says nothing about funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamps, which historically constitutes about 80 percent of the funding in a Farm Bill.
No House Democrat voted for the measure. Twelve Republicans also opposed it. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) voted in favor of it, even though speakers traditionally don't vote.
The vote made clear that Republicans intend to make significant reductions in food stamp money and handed Republican leaders a much-needed victory three weeks after conservative lawmakers and rural state Democrats revolted and blocked the original version of the bill that included food stamp money.
Several Democratic lawmakers rose in opposition to the plan early Thursday as debate began, with several of them repeatedly saying that the new bill "hurts the children of America" or "increases hunger in America.
Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.) mockingly made a parliamentary inquiry, saying he had just obtained a copy of the 600-page bill.
"It appears to have no nutrition title at all, is this a printing error?" Butterfield asked.
The nutrition title is the portion of the bill that sets food stamp funding.
Republicans attempted to tamp down the opposition by assuring Democrats that they will hold votes on a separate measure dealing with food stamp funding later in the month.
Current federal farm and food aid policy expires on Sept. 30 and failure to pass a new bill in time means American farmers will fall back to a 1949 law governing the industry, which could lead to steep price increases on items such as milk.
Rep. Bob Gibbs (R-Ohio), a member of the House Agriculture Committee, said moving forward Thursday makes sense in order to ensure that negotiations between the House and Senate on a final Farm Bill can begin later this summer.
House Republican leaders rushed late Wednesday to set up Thursday's vote after securing sufficient support among rank-and-file members. The decision comes as many rural-state Republicans are facing pressure from constituents for so far failing to approve the legislation.
The White House said late Wednesday that President Obama would veto any Farm Bill that fails to comprehensively address federal farm and food aid policy. In a statement, White House officials said they had insufficient time to review the bill.
"It is apparent, though, that the bill does not contain sufficient commodity and crop insurance reforms and does not invest in renewable energy, an important source of jobs and economic growth in rural communities across the country," the statement said. "Legislation as important as a Farm Bill should be constructed in a comprehensive approach that helps strengthen all aspects of the Nation."
House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) blasted Republicans for violating their own rules on waiting three days before voting on major legislation.
Hoyer called the new Farm Bill "a bill to nowhere," and said that Senate Democrats would reject the House version even if it passes. "This dead-on-arrival messaging bill only seeks to accomplish one objective: to make it appear that Republicans are moving forward with important legislation even while they continue to struggle at governing," Hoyer said.
Conservative organizations closely aligned with dozens of House Republicans also cast doubt on the new bill.
The Club for Growth said that while it supports splitting up farm and food policy, the new farm-only bill "is still loaded down with market-distorting giveaways to special interests with no path established to remove the government's involvement in the agriculture industry." The group also faulted House GOP leaders for proceeding with what it calls a "rope-a-dope exercise" that likely will result in House and Senate negotiators restoring commodity and food stamp funding opposed by Republicans.
Heritage Action said the new bill would wrongly make permanent several programs, including aid to sugar producers that would drive up costs for customers and taxpayers.
Conservative GOP lawmakers joined with Democrats last month to defeat a broad, five-year farm bill, in the latest rebuke to House GOP leaders, who have struggled to control the chamber to pass major legislation.
Conservatives objected to the bill's spending levels, while Democrats opposed a $20.5 billion cut to food stamps.
The surprise defeat signaled the difficulty congressional leaders face in the coming months in passing legislation on the budget and immigration that is expected to be debated this month and in the fall.
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