House votes down Farm Bill
This is something of a shocker because the GOP leadership in the House put everything they had into passing it. But in the end, 64 Republicans joined all but 24 Democrats in voting against the massive trillion dollar farm bill.
Most farmers will not be pleased. The bill would have replaced most subsidies with crop insurance. And it would have boosted exports - a big selling point in the Midwest.
The GOP leadership just got its head handed to it and are asking, "What now"?
The vote is a blow to Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and other Republican leaders who for two years have failed to move farm policy forward. The issue has badly divided Republicans.
Immediately after the vote, Republicans were apoplectic at what they characterized as a betrayal by Democratic leaders, who did not deliver the votes they promised.
"The Democrats walked away from this," Boehner, who cast a rare vote in favor of the bill, told The Hill as he walked off the House floor.
He would not answer further questions as he returned to his office.
The chief Republican vote-counter, Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (Calif.), also blamed Democrats and said the bill could come back to the floor next week, with changes. "We can correct it if [Democrats] are not going to help us," he said after the vote.
McCarthy's comment suggests GOP leaders wil seek to make the bill more appealing to conservatives.
Republicans had expected Democrats to deliver 40 votes for the bill. But a GOP aide said at the last moment, Agriculture Committee ranking member Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) said they could not produce that many because of pressure from Democratic leaders and the White House, which had threatened to veto the bill over the food stamp cuts.
Peterson blamed the approval of two amendments for the failure.
One of the amendments -- backed by Boehner -- ended production limits on dairy producers that were a part of the underlying bill.
The second, sponsored by Rep. Steve Southerland (R-Fla.), allowed states to require food stamp beneficiaries to either work or look for work.
"I told Cantor that Southerland cost us 15 votes," Peterson said, referring to Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.). "A lot of people came up to me and said, I'm with you, but I'm out now."
The Senate version of the Farm Bill only cuts $5 billion from SNAP while the House bill cuts $20 billion - a very wide bridge to span if the bill ever gets to conference committee.
But the GOP lost a golden opportunity to put the onus of defeat on President Obama and the Democrats. The farmers are not a large constituency, but many are politically active. Once a reliable GOP vote, farmers have been trending independent or Democratic in the last two decades. This is a result of their increasing reliance on government for a wide variety of subsidies and payments. Of course, most farms today are large corprorate operations and everything from water rights for irrigation to rules governing animal husbandry are managed by government at all levels.
Was there enough good in this bill to overcome its pork provisions? Ending farm subsidies has been the goal of Republicans for 30 years. And putting a dent in the growth of the food stamp program is much needed. Those provisions alone should have been enough to pass the bill. But too many Republicans have made the perfect the enemy of the good and will probably vote against it again if it comes back to the floor.