The House rejected a five-year, half-trillion-dollar farm bill Thursday that would have cut $2 billion annually from food stamps and let states impose broad new work requirements on those who receive them.
Those cuts weren't deep enough for many Republicans who objected to the cost of the nearly $80 billion-a-year food stamp program, which has doubled in the past five years. The vote was 234-195, with 62 Republicans voting against the bill.
It also suffered from lack of Democratic support necessary for the traditionally bipartisan farm bill to pass. Only 24 Democrats voted in favor after many said the food stamp cuts could remove as many as 2 million needy recipients from the rolls. The addition of optional state work requirements by Republican amendment turned many remaining Democratic votes the bill's supporters may have had otherwise.
Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., and No. 2 Democrat Steny Hoyer of Maryland, both of whom voted for the bill, immediately took to the House floor and blamed the other's party for the defeat.
Cantor said it was a "disappointing day" and that Democrats had been a "disappointing player."
Hoyer suggested that Republicans voted for the food stamp work requirements to tank the bill.
"What happened today is you turned a bipartisan bill, necessary for our farmers, necessary for our consumers, necessary for the people of America, that many of us would have supported, and you turned it into a partisan bill," he said.
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House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., has argued the bill is necessary to avoid repeating farm crises of the past and that it contains some major reforms. The measure would have saved about $4 billion after new subsidies for crop insurance, rice and peanut farmers.
Just before the vote, Lucas pleaded with his colleagues, saying that if the measure didn't pass people would use it as another example of a dysfunctional Congress.
Just after the vote, Lucas told reporters the vote "turned out to be a heavier lift even than I expected."
Minnesota Rep. Collin Peterson, the senior Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee, said he believes the work requirements and a vote that scuttled a proposed dairy overhaul turned too many lawmakers against the measure.
"I had a bunch of people come up to me and say, 'I was with you, but this is it, I'm done,' " Peterson said after the vote.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, voted for the bill, but Boehner supported the dairy amendment, while Cantor backed the work requirement amendment. Lucas and Peterson had warned that adoption of those amendments could contribute to the bill's downfall.
The Senate overwhelmingly passed its version of the farm bill last week, with about $2.4 billion a year in overall cuts and a $400 million annual decrease in food stamps—one-fifth of the House bill's food stamp cuts. If the two chambers cannot come together on a bill, farm-state lawmakers are likely to push for an extension of the 2008 farm bill, which expires in September.
Though passage has been in the balance all week, the final vote against the bill was larger than many had expected. When the final vote count was read, House Democrats cheered loudly, led by members of the Congressional Black Caucus, who had fought the food stamp cuts.
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The defeat is also a major victory for conservative taxpayer and environmental groups that have worked unsuccessfully against the bill for years. Those groups have aggressively lobbied lawmakers in recent weeks, hoping to capitalize on the 200-plus new members of the House since the last farm bill. Many of them are conservative Republicans who replaced moderate rural Democrats who championed farm policy.
"We need to put farm subsidies on a path to elimination and we need to devolve food stamps to the state level where they belong," said Chris Chocola, president of the conservative advocacy group Club for Growth.