For the first time, a farm bill has failed on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives.
The bill’s failure was also worst fears of farm-state Republicans; their own party pushed so far on cutting nutrition benefits that House Democrats voted against the measure en masse.
At least, that appeared to be the reason the farm bill was voted down June 20, as House Ag Committee Chairman Frank Lucas allowed an amendment from Republican Rep. Steve Southerland of Florida to come to the floor. Southerland’s amendment would have required SNAP recipients to have a job, or to attend job training. His amendment passed, and was denounced by House Ag Ranking Member Collin Peterson as the “last straw.”
Just one day prior, House Democrats had put forward an amendment that would have eliminated the $20 billion cut to the SNAP program; it failed to the Republican majority. That move would have allowed Democrats to vote symbolically against the SNAP cuts and to return home to constituents without having to explain themselves. The Democrats could then have voted in support of the House farm bill in order to get it into conference, where Senate Democrats with more clout could have scaled the cuts back for the final bill.
But after the Southerland amendment, Peterson told Lucas he couldn’t deliver the 52 Democrat votes needed to pass the bill; as a result, the House farm bill failed on the House floor – a historic first – by a vote of 195 to 234.
Reaction came from several sectors, with most commodity groups expressing disappointment. The American Farm Bureau Federation seemed almost stunned. Only the Center For Rural Affairs, based in Nebraska, spoke in support of the no vote, saying “The failure of this farm bill vote sends a clear signal that the Farm Bill needs much greater reform to achieve passage.”
The current farm bill extension expires on September 30, at the end of the fiscal year. The House of Representatives has several options for moving forward, including the addition of amendments to the Senate legislation. Resurrecting a bill that is voted down has been historically difficult, and in remarks before the final vote, House Ag Chair Lucas expressed doubts that another farm bill would come to pass in the current Congressional session.
Before the bill’s defeat, Lucas seemed to be bridging a divide that had existed since the last farm bill failure in the 112th Congress.
But prior to the final vote, he appeared to see the bill’s failure coming, and pleaded with his fellow Representatives to push the bill to conference to maintain momentum.
I know that not everyone – everyone – has in this final bill exactly what they want.
I know that some of my very conservative friends think that it doesn’t go far enough in the name of reform.
I know some of my liberal friends think it goes too far in the name of addressing the needs of people.
But I would say this to all of you: ultimately, this body has to do its work. Ultimately, we have to move a product we can go to conference with. Ultimately, we have to work out a consenus with the United States Senate, so that we will have a final document that we can all consider together, that hopefully we’ll support and the President can sign into law.
Now, I have tried in good faith working with my Ranking Member, and each and every one of you in every facet of these issues to achieve that consensus.
I have tried, and I hope that you recognize and acknowledge that. But we’re at this critical moment. Whether you believe the bill has too much reform or not enough, or you believe it cuts too much or not enough.
We have to move this document forward to achieve a common goal, to meet the needs of our citizens, no matter what part of the country. No matter if they produce the food or consumer the food. We have to meet those common needs in a responsible fashion.
I plead to you – I implore you – put aside whatever the latest email is, or whatever the latest flyer is, or whatever comment or rumor you’ve hear from people near you or around you. Assess the situation. Look at the bill. Vote with me to move this forward. If you care about the consumers, the producers, the citizens of this country, move this bill forward.
If it fails today, I can’t guarantess that you’ll see in this session of Congress another attempt.
But I would assure each and every one of you, whether it’s the appropriations process, or the amendments to the other bills, the struggle will go on, but it’s won’t be in a balanced way.
If you care about your folks, if you care about this institution, if you care about utilizing open order, vote with us. Vote with me on final.
And if you don’t, when you leave here, they’ll just say it’s a dysfunction body, a broken institution full of dysfunctional people.
That’s not true. You know that’s not true. Cast your vote in a responsible fashion. That’s all I can ask.
Thank you, my friends. I yield back, Mr. Speaker.
Lucas said his piece and returned to his seat. 62 of his fellow Republicans and 172 Democrats would go on to defeat the farm bill.