House Votes Down 5-Year Farm Bill

Members of the House on Thursday rejected the measure, studded with Republican priorities. In the past, the farm bill has been a model of bipartisan support. But defections in both parties spelled the bill's doom.

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It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

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And I'm Renee Montagne. To get a sense of how rocky it's getting for Republican leaders in the House, you only need to look at yesterday's farm bill vote. Even though the five-year bill was studded with Republican priorities, it didn't pass.

In the past, the farm bill has been a model of bipartisan support. But defections in both parties spelled this bill's doom. NPR congressional correspondent Tamara Keith reports.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: It's a measure of current politics in the House that even farm bills aren't easy to pass. Last year's effort didn't even make it to the floor. This year, the chairman of the Agriculture Committee, Frank Lucas from Oklahoma, worked hard to reach a fragile balance. Cut food stamps enough to win Republican votes, but not too much because he'd need the support of Democrats, too.

(SOUNDBITE OF HOUSE FLOOR SPEECH)

REP. FRANK LUCAS: I know that not everyone has in this final bill exactly what they want. I know some of my very conservative friends think that it don't - doesn't go far enough in the name of reform. I know some of my liberal friends - thinks it goes too far.

KEITH: But he pleaded on the House floor...

LUCAS: Ultimately, this body has to do its work.

KEITH: Ultimately, it didn't. The bill went down - by a lot. Erica Elliot, an aide to the majority whip, read the results, seething with anger.

ERICA ELLIOT: Republicans - 171 yays, 62 nays, one not voting; Democrats - a pathetic 24 yays, 172 nays, five not voting.

REP. COLLIN PETERSON: I don't know how you can blame us. We're not in charge. We don't have enough votes to pass anything.

KEITH: Collin Peterson is a Minnesota Democrat, and the ranking member of the Ag Committee. He says about 15 Democratic yes votes dropped out late in the process, after House Republicans passed a pair of amendments on dairy price supports and food stamps.

PETERSON: If you over-reach, you get nothing. And that's what we've been trying to tell people.

KEITH: Many House Republicans just said no to the bill, urged on by conservative groups like the Club for Growth and Heritage Action, who didn't like the price tag on the bill. Past farm bills got through by combining food stamps with farm supports, bringing the interests of urban Democrats and rural Republicans together. But this time, that caused the bill to unravel. Iowa Republican Steve King, who supported the bill, says he's not sure what the path forward is from here.

REP. STEVE KING: There's going to be discussion saying, let's expand the cuts in nutrition program and pass a bill with all Republican votes. That sounds pretty hard to me. The other side is, you dial it back the other way, to try to pick up more Democrat votes. I don't think that will work at all.

KEITH: King says the irony is the old farm bill may well be extended for another year or two. If that happens, direct payments to farmers will continue whether they plant a crop or not, directly contradicting the general agreement that this practice should end. And those cuts to the food stamp program conservatives wanted? They won't happen, either.

Tamara Keith, NPR News, the Capitol.

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