Farm Law Fails in U.S. House on Cuts to Food Stamps

Enough U.S. House Republicans defied Speaker John Boehner and joined Democrats to defeat agriculture policy legislation that would cut $20.5 billion in food-stamp spending.

The 195-234 vote today followed by less than two weeks Senate passage of a $955 billion version and leaves spending on farm programs in limbo. Without a new law, they begin to expire on Sept. 30. Bill advocates lost as 62 Republicans joined 172 Democrats, including that party’s top leaders, to defeat the measure.

“This bill should never have been brought to the floor” because of the cuts to food stamps, said Representative Yvette Clarke, a New York Democrat. “We are in a time when people are vulnerable, and this bill would make them more vulnerable.”

The bill lost Democratic support after Republicans added a provision that would let states run pilot projects that set work requirements for food-stamp recipients.

The farm bill, which would benefit crop-buyers such as Archer-Daniels-Midland Co., grocers including Supervalu Inc. and insurers including Wells Fargo & Co. and Ace Ltd, has been working through Congress for almost two years. Current authorization for U.S. Department of Agriculture programs, passed in 2008, was extended last year after the Senate approved a plan and the House declined to consider its own.

“Today’s failure leaves the entire food and agriculture sector in the lurch,” Danny Murphy, president of the American Soybean Association, said today in a statement.

Democratic Opposition

The defeated bill proposed cutting the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, known as food stamps, and boosting insurance subsidies to growers of corn, wheat and other crops. Democrats including Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California and Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the second-ranking Democrat in the House, voted against the bill.

Boehner, an Ohio Republican, and Majority Leader Eric Cantor, a Virginia Republican, voted for the bill. Some Republicans who opposed the bill had sought deeper cuts in food stamp spending and others wanted reductions in farm assistance.

“This proved to be a heavier lift than even I expected,” said Representative Frank Lucas of Oklahoma, the Republican chairman of the Agriculture Committee, which recommended approval of the measure. “I expect there will be a next step.”

A Republican aide said Democrats withdrew their support after an amendment, offered by Representative Steve Southerland, a Florida Republican, was approved, letting states apply federal welfare work requirements to food stamps, which potentially would shrink the pool of recipients.

‘Professionalism, Maturity’

“The Democrats told us clearly right before the vote that they knew that the Southerland amendment was going to pass, and they decided at the last minute to pull their support,” said Rory Cooper, a spokesman for Cantor. “This was a complete collapse of professionalism and maturity on the Democratic Party’s part.”

Senator Debbie Stabenow, chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, said she is urging Boehner to consider passing the Senate’s bill or to do “whatever it takes” to find a bipartisan plan.

“I’m very disappointed, very surprised,” Stabenow, a Michigan Democrat, said in a brief interview. “Sixteen million people are counting on it who work in agriculture, and there’s no reason that they cannot come up with a bipartisan approach that will get enough votes to pass in the House.”

While supporters had called the bill a compromise that cut farm payments and reined in welfare programs, budget watchdogs said the plan was loaded with provisions benefiting producers of everything from catfish to sushi rice at a time when profits are projected at a record $128.2 billion this year.

Spending by farm lobbyists increased to $138 million last year from $112 million in 2007, the year before the previous farm bill passed, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a Washington-based research group that tracks spending on lobbying. Agriculture-industry employees spent $91 million on the 2012 elections, up from $70 million in 2008.

The Senate bill is S. 954. The House bill is H.R. 1947.