Here’s a word that could sum up what happened yesterday in the U.S. House: disappointing.
At the end of a fairly short three day session, The House Farm Bill failed to pass by a vote of 195-234. What this means is the Farm Bill cannot advance into a full conference even though the Senate passed its version just two weeks ago.
Is the Farm Bill dead? Was it dead upon arrival anyway?
So what went wrong?
At the end of the day, just before the final vote, a separate and controversial amendment (#102) was presented by Rep. Steve Southerland (Fla.). The amendment would have applied federal welfare work requirements to the food stamp program (SNAP) as a state option. This passed by a 227-198-vote count.
Prior to introduction of this amendment, the majority of Democrats and Republicans supported passage of the House Farm Bill. But Democrats believed the last minute change could significantly limit access to food stamps and decided to withdraw their support of the overall bill. As a result they lost Democratic support and an additional 62 Republicans which is about a quarter of the GOP conference.
Some have suggested certain Republicans voted for the food stamp work requirement to tank the bill. What’s for sure is the amendment turned a bipartisan bill– necessary for our farmers, consumers, and for the people of America– into a partisan bill.
Both sides of the aisle are blaming the other:
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) made the following statement “I’m extremely disappointed that Nancy Pelosi and Democratic leadership have at the last minute chosen to derail years of bipartisan work on the Farm Bill and related reforms.” While House Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Collin Peterson (D-MN), said “The farm bill failed to pass the House today because the House Republicans could not control the extreme right wing of their party.” To Quote Minority Leader Nancy Peolsi “What is happening on the floor today was major amateur hour.”
What’s next and how do we move forward? It’s murky, and nobody knows for sure, but there appear to be three paths.
The Republican leadership in the House could bring a new version of the Farm Bill to the floor, with a new slate of amendments designed to garner additional Republican votes. If the House does pass a Farm Bill, then the House and Senate passed Farm Bills would proceed to conference later in the summer.
Second, the Senate-passed Farm Bill could be attached to a piece of legislation that must pass the House, such as an appropriations bill, in an attempt to move it through. This is an unlikely path forward, though, because the Senate-passed bill is not palatable to a majority of the House of Representatives.
Third, the House can do nothing, and Congress can yet again allow the Farm Bill to expire at midnight on September 30. It is likely that Agriculture Committee leaders would then move to a strategy for passing a short-term extension. This last path would be disastrous for American agriculture and, more specifically, to several organic programs that were left out of last year’s extension.
This is the first time in 40 years the House has voted down a Farm Bill. It leads me to ask “Is Congress a governance body or an opposition party?” What do you think?