WASHINGTON (AP) — The House passed Thursday a scaled-down version of a massive farm bill, putting off a fight over food stamp spending and giving Republican leaders a victory after a decisive defeat on the larger bill last month.
The GOP leaders scrambled to get the bill to the floor and gather enough votes after deciding to drop a politically sensitive food stamp section of the bill and pass legislation that contained only farm programs.
They faced significant opposition to the plan from Democrats, farm groups and conservative groups that threatened to use the vote against GOP members in future campaigns. But Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., navigated his colleagues to a narrow 216-208 vote by convincing Republican members that this was the best chance to get the bill passed and erase the embarrassment of the June defeat.
Any other path to passage most likely would have concessions to Democrats who opposed the original bill.
Last month, 62 Republicans voted against the original $100 billion-a-year bill after Boehner and Cantor supported it. Only 12 Republicans voted against the new measure and no Democrats voted for it.
In a statement, Rep. John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove, noted that more than 500 organizations — including the California Farm Bureau, Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, Family Farm Alliance and The Nature Conservancy — opposed the bill.
He said that removing the nutrition title from the bill “separated the farm and food programs, resulting in the destruction of a long-standing and successful coalition of farm, food and environmental programs.”
“I am committed to the passage of a farm bill that fully meets the needs of agriculture and the food security requirements of this country, and I will continue fighting for this,” Garamendi said.
Republicans said the food stamp part of the legislation would be dealt with separately at a later date, and Cantor said after the vote that Republicans would “act with dispatch” to get that legislation to the floor.
Just hours before Thursday’s expected floor vote, it was still unclear whether GOP leaders had the votes needed to pass the new measure containing only farm programs. The legislation faced a veto threat from the White House, and House Democrats reacted angrily to the last-minute move by the GOP.
The dropped food stamp section would have made a 3 percent cut to the $80 billion-a-year feeding program. Many Republicans say that isn’t enough since the program’s cost has doubled in the last five years. Democrats have opposed any cuts.
The food stamp program doesn’t need legislation to continue, but Congress would have to pass a bill to enact changes.
The idea of a split bill was to pass the farm programs — the Congressional Budget Office calculates they would cost about $20 billion a year and contain about $1.3 billion a year in cuts to farm subsidies — and take the food stamp portion up later. Republicans could then be able to make bigger cuts to the food programs and pass that bill with conservative support.
In voting for the bill, conservative lawmakers made the unusual move of bucking the conservative groups Club for Growth and Heritage Action, both of which said they would use a “yes” vote against Republicans in future campaigns. While those groups originally supported the idea of dropping the food stamps and taking that part of the bill up separately, they later said the GOP idea was a ruse to get the bill in conference with the Democratic-led Senate, where food stamps will be added back in with smaller cuts.
The Senate overwhelmingly passed a farm bill last month with only a half-percent cut to food stamps and would be reluctant to go along with a split bill or further cuts to the programs.
During the floor debate, House Democrats painted the legislation as taking the food stamps away from the hungry.
“You are taking food out of the mouths of your own poor constituents,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., told Republicans in a floor speech.
The White House agreed that food stamps should not be left out of the bill and threatened to veto it. The Obama administration had also threatened to veto the original bill, saying it did not include enough reductions to farm subsidies and the food stamp cuts were too severe.
— Enterprise staff writer Cory Golden contributed to this report.