House Approves Millions In Farm Subsidies, Removes Food Stamps From Farm Bill Entirely

Republicans in the House reintroduced the farm bill. It passed by a vote of 216-208. No Democrats voted for it; only 12 Republicans voted against it. Image by Lorraine Devon Wilke  @

Republicans in the House reintroduced the farm bill. It passed by a vote of 216-208. No Democrats voted for it; only 12 Republicans voted against it. Image by Lorraine Devon Wilke

One of the larger of many failures of the current congress took place three weeks ago when the House of Representatives failed to pass the farm bill. The bill was defeated by a vote of 234-195. Only 24 Democrats voted for it, while 62 Republicans voted against it. Republicans, predictably, rushed to blame Democrats for the failure, saying that Democrats had promised 40 “yea” votes but didn’t deliver them. Republicans who voted against the bill did so largely because they felt there were not enough cuts in it, while Democrats who voted against it were mainly unhappy about where the cuts came from, particularly SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), aka “food stamps.”

The legislation would have cut food stamps by more than $20.5 billion, which was unacceptable to the White House, and President Obama had threatened to veto it. A number of Democrats were prepared to vote for the bill despite the cuts, but a last-minute amendment inserted by Republicans, that called for allowing states to institute work requirements in order to receive SNAP benefits, guaranteed the bill would not get enough Democratic votes to pass. It is deeply ironic that many of the same Republicans who voted in favor of the amendment still voted against the final bill.

This afternoon Republicans in the House of Representatives reintroduced the farm bill, but with food stamp funding removed. According to a GOP aide, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor wanted to move forward with a bill that would have enough Republican support to pass it, since, in his opinion, “Democrats proved they cannot be trusted to work in good faith.” The bill, which was introduced with a rule allowing no amendments, passed by a vote of 216-208. No Democrats voted for it, while only 12 Republicans voted against it.

The farm bill has traditionally been passed as a total package, offering subsidies and benefits to food producers and covering nutrition programs such as SNAP in one piece of legislation. According to the New York Times, Congressman Peter Welch (D-VT) observed:

This is really bad policy that ignores years of urban and rural cooperation. And it completely ignores the bipartisan efforts of the House Agriculture Committee.

Separating nutrition funding from the bill clears the way for even deeper cuts in food stamps. Robert Greenstein of the Center For Budget and Policy Priorities told the National Journal that placing funding for nutrition programs in a separate bill

“…would take the SNAP bill farther to the right and make bigger cuts. I worry that it sets the program up for a ceaseless attack over time because it is unauthorized.”

What “unauthorized” means is that a SNAP bill that comes out of the House with drastic cuts would likely never pass the Senate, which offered up only $4 billion in nutrition program cuts in its version of the farm bill. In that case, the SNAP program would continue to be funded through appropriations bills, and would be subject to constant proposals for cuts. The farm bill authorizes programs through 2018, which would lock in funding levels for SNAP for the next five years. Remember that the most recent edition of the budget proposal offered by Congressman Paul Ryan (R-WI) calls for cuts to food stamps of $135 billion over ten years… you can see why supporters of the program are concerned.

There is some history that shows what might happen when food stamps are left on their own, instead of being covered under the umbrella of the farm bill. In 1996, then Speaker Newt Gingrich proposed a plan to turn the food stamp program over to the states. The chairman of the Senate agriculture committee at the time, Pat Roberts (R-KS), had to keep the program in that year’s farm bill in order for it to pass the Senate, but the bill reauthorized food stamps for only two years. Food stamps were left to be dealt with as part of welfare reform, and, as a result, congress made the largest cuts to food stamps in the program’s history, almost $26 billion over six years.

On July 2, a coalition of 532 groups, including such diverse interests as the American Farm Bureau Federation, the World Wildlife Fund, and the American Bankers Association, sent John Boehner a letter requesting that he leave the original bill intact and bring it up again as soon as possible. Of course, the bill was not left intact, although it was brought up again relatively quickly. Once again Republican party politics trumps the common good.