House passes farm bill on strength of GOP vote

July 11, 2013 at 3:58 PM
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WASHINGTON, July 11 (UPI) -- Over rancorous Democratic objections, the Republican-led U.S. House passed a farm bill Thursday that does not include reauthorization of the food stamp program.

The vote was 216-208. No Democrats voted for the bill.

During the nearly seven hours of debate on the legislation, Democrats repeatedly called their Republican counterparts heartless, callous and cruel for their efforts to pass a farm bill with nutrition programs stripped from it.

The bill, called by Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., as the "farm bill farm bill" would change federal agricultural policy and conservation programs, and includes language that would end direct subsidy payments to farmers.

However, it says nothing about funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamps, which drew sharp rebukes from House Democrats and a veto threat from President Obama.

"It's no secret that I wanted to pass the full farm bill last month but that didn't happen," Lucas said of a failed effort to pass a farm bill that saw 62 Republicans vote no. "Today's bill is a step toward getting a five-year farm bill on books this year."

If representatives are serious about reducing the cost of government, providing regulatory relief to farmers and ensuring a safe, affordable and reliable food supply, "then vote for the bill," Lucas said.

Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., the ranking Democrat on the Agriculture Committee, said he reluctantly urged defeat of the bill, saying if the Agriculture Committee's previous bill had been left intact once it hit the floor, it likely would have passed with bipartisan support.

"We were doing fine until we got here on the floor and the leadership screwed it up," Peterson said. "Now you've got to make this a partisan bill. I told my caucus, this is something I never thought I'd say -- you now managed to make me partisan."

"This is a bad bill," Peterson said. "It should be defeated."

The House spent two hours debating whether to even consider the 608-page bill because it was presented only Wednesday and was placed on the calendar for debate Thursday. House rules stipulate that a bill be available for three days before it is considered.

Republicans tried to assuage the opposition by assuring Democrats there would be votes on a separate bill concerning food stamp funding later in the month.

"Let me give you my personal pledge," Lucas said in closing. "The [Agriculture Committee] will work to craft language" on the nutrition programs.

"I can't guarantee you what the product will look like coming out of committee or coming across the floor," he said. "I just can't give you that kind of guarantee."

Democrat after Democrat said the separate consideration of nutrition programs would, in effect, kill them.

"You are taking food out of the mouths of your own constituents," House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said. "The audacity to split off the nutrition parts of this bill is so stunning."

Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., said a vote on the split bill would be the "death knell of the food stamp program. It is immoral."

Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions, R-Texas, who was a floor manager on the debate to consider the bill, said it was the Republicans' hope that the bill and a "following opportunity" could be passed so the matter could go to conference with the Senate, which already passed a bill.

After more than two hours of debate, the House voted to proceed to debate the bill, 225-195.

Rep. Austin Scott, R-Ga., said the measure was the only way to proceed.

"The agriculture industry needs certainty; farmers need ability to plan," he said.

"If we fail today, I'm not sure we're going to get another chance," said Rep. Rodney David, R-Ill.

Rep. Shelia Jackson Lee, D-Texas, said the issue was about hunger.

"There is no proof, no documentation that we'll ever get to the SNAP program," she said. "The only thing we will carry home today is a sound bite ... that I cut the budget [and] threw the children under the bus."

Rep. Mark Takano, D-Calif., was one of many Democrats who decried the "hijinks" by Republicans to bring the bill to the floor so quickly.

"There is a reasonable center here if we will stay here and work at it," Takano said. "What's the rush to get out of town?"

In his closing remarks Peterson said Democrats were at the ready to work on crafting a bipartisan bill that included farm and nutrition elements.

He also noted several conservative groups, including Club for Growth, opposed the original bipartisan bill.

"The idea of splitting this bill is brainchild of conservative groups," Peterson said. "Ironically, now that they split the bill, they don't support it."

Republicans beat back a last-minute Democratic effort to amend the bill to include food safety issues, 198 in favor and 226 against.

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