FarmPolicy

July 24, 2014

Farm Bill

Categories: Farm Bill

Farm Bill- House Measure Falls Short

Prelude to a Final Vote

On the House floor yesterday, Members voted on series of amendments that had been debated Wednesday.

A closely watched vote was on a measure sponsored by Rep. Ron Kind (D., Wis.) (#47) that would have altered variables relating to the crop insurance program.

On Wednesday night, Ag Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R., Okla.) and Ranking Member Collin Peterson (D., Minn.) spoke out against the amendment in support of the current structure of the crop insurance system; a FarmPolicy.com transcript of their remarks can be viewed here.

Amendment #47 failed to pass on a vote of 208- 217.

Some policy observers may recall that Rep. Kind offered an amendment during the 2002 Farm Bill debate that would have dramatically redirected crop subsidy payments to conservation measures- that amendment also lost on a close vote (200-216) on the House floor.  As commodity subsides have declined since 2002, policy makers have increasingly transferred legislative focus to crop insurance, and will likely continue to do so.

Pete Kasperowicz reported yesterday at The Hill’s Floor Action Blog that, “The farm bill amendment from Rep. Ron Kind (D-Wis.) would only have allowed farm subsidies to operations with an average gross income of less than $250,000, and would have set a $50,000 per person cap on reimbursements.

“‘What we’re trying to do is maintain an element of risk in farming, again, in a fiscally responsible manner, by tightening up crop insurance programs that we feel have become too excessive, Kind said late Wednesday. He added that the reforms would save $11 billion.”

After concluding votes on amendments that were left over from Wednesday, lawmakers continued to debate and vote on important aspects of the Farm Bill including:

Dairy policy- Amendment 99- Removed supply management from the underlying bill’s dairy title. Passed 291-135.  Video replay of floor debate here.

Sugar policy- Amendment 98- Removes the changes made to the Sugar Program in the 2008 Farm Bill.  Failed 221-206. Video replay of floor debate here.

Payment limits- Amendment 100- Reduces farm program payment limits, capping commodity payments at $250,000 per year for any one farm. Passed 230-194.  Video replay of floor debate here.

In addition, Members considered two GOP sponsored amendments near the end of the floor action yesterday regarding the SNAP program.

The first (#101), created “additional work requirements for SNAP recipients” and was sponsored by Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R., Kans.), who was removed from the Ag Committee by House Leadership late last year.  This amendment failed on a 250-175 vote.

However, a separate SNAP amendment (#102) by Rep. Steve Southerland (Fla.) that, “Applies federal welfare work requirements to the food stamp program, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), at state option,” passed by a 227-198-vote count.

The vote on the Southerland amendment occurred just before the vote on the final passage of the Farm Bill in the House.

Note that a summary of all of the votes taken on the House floor yesterday can be found here.

Also on SNAP, recall that Pete Kasperowicz reported earlier this week that, “The House late Wednesday voted to give states the authority to conduct drug testing on people applying for food stamps under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

“By voice vote, members approved the idea as an amendment to the farm bill. The amendment was proposed by Rep. Richard Hudson (R-N.C.). Hudson said the proposal would help ensure SNAP benefits go to needy families and children.”

Prior to the vote on final passage, Chairman Lucas made a final case to his colleagues to vote for the measure, and received a round of applause from his fellow lawmakers at the conclusion of his remarks- video replay here.

 

Final Vote- Cantor, Hoyer Floor Exchange

The House Farm Bill failed to pass by a vote of 195-234.

Sixty-two Republicans voted against the measure, while 24 Democrats supported it.

Chairman Lucas, Ranking Member Peterson, Chairwoman Stabenow, Ranking Member Cochran, Sec. Vilsack, and Majority Leader Eric Cantor all issued statements on this development yesterday.  Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid tweeted about this issue yesterday as well.

Pete Kasperowicz reported yesterday at The Hill’s Floor Action Blog that, “House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) blamed each other for the House’s failure to pass the farm bill Thursday.

“Hoyer started by accusing House Republicans of taking a bipartisan bill that was reported by the Agriculture Committee, and turning it into a partisan bill by adding a controversial provision that would have given states the option of limiting food stamps.”

Mr. Kasperowicz indicated that, “The language Hoyer referred to was an amendment from Rep. Steve Southerland (R-Fla.) that would have let states require food stamp recipients to work or look for work. Cantor responded to Hoyer by saying the amendment would have set up a pilot project that might have been used to help reform the food stamp program.

“‘There never was an intention at all for our side to say we want to take away the safety net of the food stamp program,’ Cantor said. ‘Absolutely not. This was a pilot project, that was it.’”

The Hill update added that, “Hoyer’s own voice was turned up a notch when he responded by saying the GOP’s call for the regular order of conferencing bills with the Senate rings hollow, as Republicans are objecting to a conference on the budget. He also said Republicans are to blame for including several food stamp proposals that Democrats are known to oppose, and then holding a vote that loses 62 Republicans, about a quarter of the GOP conference.

“‘So don’t blame Democrats for the loss today,’ Hoyer said. ‘You didn’t bring up the farm bill when it was reported out on a bipartisan basis last year. You didn’t even bring it to the floor because your party couldn’t come together supporting their chairman’s bill.’”

AP writer Mary Clare Jalonick reported yesterday that, “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.”

A video replay of a portion of the exchange between Reps. Hoyer and Cantor is available here.

 

Analysis

David Rogers reported yesterday at Politico that, “The farm bill collapsed in the House on Thursday, the victim of continued divisions over food stamp cuts and the shape of future agriculture subsidies.

“The 195-234 vote is an embarrassment for the Republican leadership and caps a remarkable year in which the GOP first blocked any farm bill floor action last summer and now was unable to prevail even after Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor won key amendments in the final hours.

Both amendments contributed to a deterioration of Democratic support even as the GOP still lost 62 of its own members on the right.”

“‘I did have more Democrats,’ Peterson told reporters after the vote. He said the ‘last straw’ had been a Cantor-backed amendment that opened the door to states imposing more work requirements on able-bodied food stamp recipients.”

Mr. Rogers noted that, “But after all the frustration of the past year, Cantor’s sudden prominence — coming down to speak after being otherwise silent — infuriated those close to Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.). And this all played out in an atmosphere in which Lucas had been working — with some success — to try to stem the Democratic bleeding on the nutrition issue.

“First, Rep. Mike Conaway (R-Texas), a member of the panel, agreed to allow his food stamp amendment to die on a voice vote. Second, Lucas and Peterson combined forces to kill a proposal that not only added work requirements but also demanded an additional $11 billion in cuts.

“‘What is happening on the floor today was major amateur hour,’ said [Minority Leader Nancy Pelos], who had to pass a farm bill herself as speaker in 2007 with just 19 Republican votes at the time. ‘They didn’t get results and they put the blame on somebody else.’”

Yesterday’s Politico article stated that: “‘The timing was terrible. And I told Eric that,’ Peterson said later. ‘I told Lucas [to] be careful with this one because they’ve about had it. And when that came up at the last deal, … I had a bunch of people come up to me and say, ‘I was with you, but this is it. I’m done.’’

“The chief sponsor of the amendment, Rep. Steve Southerland (R-Fla.), further aggravated Democrats by insisting on a recorded vote, even after the chair had ruled his amendment had been approved by voice.

“‘If you overreach, you get nothing,’ Peterson said. ‘And that’s what we’ve been trying to tell people. You carry this too far and you’ll get no reduction in the deficit. You’ll get no reform of the farm programs. You will continue food stamps exactly like they are with no changes. And you’ll continue crop insurance with no changes. And that could be where we’re at.’”

Reuters writer Charles Abbott reported yesterday that, “The embarrassing loss for Republican leaders was the first time in at least 40 years that the House voted down a farm bill.

“Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor generally do not bring legislation to the floor until they are sure they have enough votes for passage.

“It showed the power of the Tea Party-influenced fiscal conservatives to disrupt legislation. A Library of Congress study showed it also may be the first time in history the House has rejected a farm bill, although in 2012 a farm bill died without being brought to a vote.”

Mike Lillis reported yesterday at The Hill Online that, “‘Enough [Democratic] members were ready to support the bill that came out of committee, even though they didn’t like it, as long as it didn’t get worse on the floor,’ Pelosi said. ‘That was the responsibility of the majority.’

“The first controversial amendment, championed by Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), would eliminate government production limits on dairy processors. The second, sponsored Rep. Steve Southerland (R-Fla.), would empower states to require food stamp beneficiaries to seek work while on the program.

“‘They put two seeds of their own destruction in the bill,’ Pelosi charged.”

The Hill article noted that, “Peterson said he’d warned GOP leaders not to offer the Southerland amendment — particularly so close to the final vote — for fear that it would sink the whole package.

Peterson said a handful of Democrats dropped their support after Boehner’s dairy amendment passed, but that the Southerland amendment was ‘the straw’ that broke the back of Democratic support.

“‘We were over 40 and we ended up … at 24,’ he said.”

Bloomberg writers Alan Bjerga and Derek Wallbank reported yesterday that, “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.

“‘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.’”

DTN Ag Policy Editor Chris Clayton reported yesterday that, “The House vote failed even though it appeared the House Agriculture Committee leaders were effectively managing the bill. But the last amendment turned into a rancorous near-party-line vote that would allow states to add new work requirements to people on food stamps. Moreover, after staying out of the fray the entire debate, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., came to the floor to back the amendment.

“Staffers for farm groups said the anger from Democrats was obvious — just before the final vote. There was no time for cooler heads to prevail.

“‘When I heard the groan come across the floor when the work amendment passed, I thought that was just the death knell of this bill,’ said Mary Kay Thatcher, a lobbyist for the American Farm Bureau Federation.”

Mr. Clayton pointed out that, “It leaves the question of where do we go from here? [Roger Johnson, president of the National Farmers Union] noted that agricultural groups have been flexible and willing to give up different commodity and conservation programs. Some groups have switched positions to help get the bill passed.

“‘This is not a problem with the agricultural community,’ he said. ‘This is a problem with Congress.’”

Chris Cillizza noted yesterday at The Fix Blog (Washington Post) that, “‘Republicans continue to act as an opposition party and not as a governing party, which is congruent with increasing parliamentary behavior among the electorate and their elected officials,’ said one former Republican lawmaker. ‘This is not a path to a majority. House Republicans need to recognize their destinies are intertwined.’”

Jake Sherman, in an article yesterday at Politico, quoted aides to Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) as saying, “Republicans delivered the exact number of votes we had promised, per our very accurate whip count. Today, good faith bipartisanship is trumped by bad faith politics.”

Jerry Hagstrom reported yesterday at National Journal Online that, “Peterson said he believes the bill ‘can be salvaged,’ but he also noted that all farmers except the dairy producers would be happy with another extension of the 2008 farm bill. That would mean another round of the $5 billion direct payments that crop farmers get whether prices are high or low and no cuts to food stamps or restrictions on crop insurance. There has been talk that it might be difficult to pass another extension, but Peterson noted that Congress will have to take some action, or the permanent law from the 1930s and 1940s will go into effect. If Congress tries to pass anything but a simple extension, that quickly turns into a rewrite of the farm bill, he said.

“Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, a conservative who had voted for the bill, lingered nearby and told reporters that bringing the bill back to the floor is not impossible, ‘but I’m not optimistic.’ King suggested that Congress should wait until after the Fourth of July break to reconsider the situation. In what may have been a signal to farmers to put pressure on Congress, King noted that ‘the guys in the field are wondering about next year.’”

Paul Kane reported yesterday at The Washington Post Online that, “The agriculture sector stands to suffer the most from the bill’s failure. Without action later this year, American farmers will fall back to a 1949 law governing the industry, which could lead to steep price increases on items such as milk.”

Brad Plumer noted yesterday at the Wonk Blog (Washington Post) that, “So now House Republicans will either have to start over — or, possibly, go to conference without a bill and try to negotiate something with the Senate. (Update: As Deron Lovaas reminds me, this is basically what happened when the House failed to pass a highway bill last year. House lawmakers would still have to approve whatever bill comes out of conference, however.)”

Ramsey Cox reported yesterday at The Hill’s Floor Action Blog that, “Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) called on the House to take up the Senate-passed farm bill.

“‘I urge the House to pass the bipartisan Senate farm bill,’ Bennet said on the Senate floor Thursday.”

Meanwhile, The Wall Street Journal editorial board indicated today that, “Let’s hope the vote marks the beginning of the end for the long alliance between urban Democrats who support food stamps and rural Republicans dependent on crop subsidies.”

While The New York Times editorial board stated today that, “It appears some Democrats, who might have voted for the House bill, were repelled by a last-minute Republican amendment that added a punitive work requirement to food stamp eligibility rules. That came on top of an offensive amendment Republicans pushed through on Wednesday to authorize states to conduct drug testing of food stamp applicants, despite studies showing they are no more likely than nonbeneficiaries to be using drugs.

“It is unclear exactly what the House bill’s defeat will mean for Mr. Boehner. It could mean trouble for immigration reform, which has bipartisan support in the Senate. One question is whether Mr. Boehner and other Republican leaders will try to secure the votes of the most radical party members by producing another version of the farm bill with even more devastating food stamp cuts or, worse, by turning the program into a capped block grant to the states.

“President Obama and Congressional Democrats will need to stand strong against weakening an effective program that helps millions of Americans.”

In other news, Neil Munshi reported yesterday at The Financial Times Online that, “A bipartisan group of senators has urged the US Treasury department to take a harder look at the $4.7bn acquisition of Smithfield Foods by Shuanghui International, a fresh sign of sensitivity surrounding what would be the largest-ever Chinese takeover of a US company.

“The group wrote to Jack Lew, Treasury secretary, urging him to include the agriculture department and the Food and Drug Administration in the national security review of the transaction being led by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States.”

The FT article noted that, “The letter was signed by 15 senators, including the top two members of the agriculture committee: Debbie Stabenow, a Michigan Democrat, and Thad Cochran, a Mississippi Republican.”

And, Sara Murray and Kristina Peterson reported in today’s Wall Street Journal that, “The Senate edged Thursday toward embracing a plan to put thousands more federal agents on the border with Mexico, in a bid to sway more Republicans to back a comprehensive immigration bill.

“The deal appeared to give the Senate immigration bill its second major shot of momentum this week, following the news that the legislation was expected to significantly reduce the federal budget deficit. It quickly prompted several previously undecided Republicans to say they would support the bill, without alienating any Democrats who had shied away from tougher border measures.”

A press release yesterday from the Senate Appropriations Committee stated that, “The Senate Committee on Appropriations today adopted fiscal year 2014 spending allocations by a vote of 15-14, and approved the FY 2014 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs bill by a vote of 23-6; and the Agriculture Appropriations bill also by a vote of 23-6. Both measures will be reported to the full Senate for its consideration.”

A separate Committee release included a broad summary of the Agriculture measure.

Keith Good 

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