WASHINGTON — The surprise defeat of the farm bill in the House on Thursday underscored the ideological divide between the more conservative, antispending Republican lawmakers and their leadership, who failed to garner sufficient votes from their caucus as well as from Democrats.
The vote against the bill, 234 to 195, comes a year after House leaders pulled the measure off the calendar because conservative lawmakers demanded deeper cuts in the food stamp program and Democrats objected. This year’s measure called for more significant cuts than the Senate bill, but it still did not go far enough to get a majority in the House to support an overhaul of the nation’s food and farm programs. Sixty-two Republicans, or more than a quarter of the caucus, voted with Democrats to defeat the bill.
The failure was a stinging defeat for Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio, who continues to have trouble marshaling the Republican support he needs to pass major legislation. Without the solid backing of his party, Mr. Boehner has to rely on some Democratic support, which deserted him Thursday.
Mr. Boehner was unable to secure the votes of a number of recently elected and strongly conservative lawmakers who were averse to cutting deals on legislation like the farm bill. Traditionally, the farm bill has passed easily with support from urban lawmakers concerned with nutrition spending and rural members focused on farm programs. But conservatives said they were more driven by a desire to shrink the size of government through spending cuts, not expand it though crop insurance subsides to rich farmers.
“While it might have been called a ‘farm bill,’ the American people understand that it was anything but,” said Representative Marlin Stutzman, Republican of Indiana, who was elected in 2010 with Tea Party support. “This trillion-dollar spending bill is too big and would have passed welfare policy on the backs of farmers.”
After the vote, Republicans and Democrats took turns on the floor blaming each other for the bill’s failure.
“You took a bipartisan bill and turned it into a partisan bill,” said Representative Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, the House’s No. 2 Democrat. “It’s unfortunate for farmers, for consumers and our country.”
Representative Eric Cantor, Republican of Virginia, the House majority leader, said Democrats had “undone years and years of bipartisan work and made it partisan.”
It was unclear if House leaders would try to revive the bill, even as Senate leaders chided the House for failing to pass it.
“Twice the Senate has overwhelmingly passed a bipartisan farm bill that reforms farm programs, ends direct payments, cuts spending and creates American agriculture jobs,” said Senator Debbie Stabenow, Democrat of Michigan and the chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee. “The House needs to find a way to get a five-year farm bill done.”
The House bill would have cut projected spending in farm and nutrition programs by nearly $40 billion over the next 10 years. Just over half, $20.5 billion, would come from cuts to the food stamp program, known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
The House bill, like the Senate’s, would have eliminated the $5 billion-a-year subsidies paid to farmers and landowners whether they plant crops or not. The billions of dollars saved would be directed into the $9 billion crop insurance program, and new subsidies would be created for peanut, cotton and rice farmers. The bill adds money to support fruit and vegetable growers, and it restores insurance programs for livestock producers, which expired in 2011, leaving thousands of operations without disaster coverage during last year’s drought.
Not surprisingly, the nearly $75-billion food stamp program was the focus of most of the farm bill debate. Democrats, led by Representative Jim McGovern of Massachusetts, said that the cuts to the program were too steep and introduced an amendment that would scale them back by cutting funds for crop insurance. Lawmakers rejected the amendment, 234 to 188.
The lawmakers did pass two amendments, one to allow states to drug test food stamp applicants, and the other to require food stamp recipients to meet federal welfare work requirements.
Mr. McGovern said that the amendments would cause two million people to lose benefits. “The price of a farm bill should not be making more people hungry in America or criminalizing people who need help,” he said.
An angry Representative Rosa DeLauro, Democrat of Connecticut, called out Republican members of Congress who had gotten farm subsidies while voting to cut food stamps.
But some Republicans countered that the cuts and other changes to the program were about fraud, not about cutting off people who really need food assistance.
“We don’t want people gaming the system,” said Representative Steve King, Republican of Iowa. Mr. King said he had heard of cases in which tattoo parlors advertise that they take food stamps as payment, and another of a person bailing himself out of jail using his food stamps benefits card. Agriculture Department officials say those cases are unlikely because stores that take the benefits have to be approved by the agency.
Agriculture groups called the vote disappointing, saying the lack of a farm bill puts farmers in a bind.
“While there were concerns over certain provisions of the bill, we were hoping its passage and a vigorous debate in conference would reach an appropriate compromise that would provide a fair safety net for the people who produce healthy, local food and the consumers who need help putting it on their dinner tables, “ said Steve Ammerman, president of the New York Farm Bureau and a board member of the American Farm Bureau.
Groups opposed to the bill applauded the vote.
“The full House was right to reject a bloated farm bill that increases subsidies for the largest and most successful farm businesses, while needlessly cutting programs designed to help feed the hungry and protect the environment — by $20 billion and $5 billion, respectively,” said Scott Faber, vice president of government affairs at the Environmental Working Group, a Washington research group.
Source: NY Times