Republicans To Regroup After Farm Bill Fails In US House

May 18, 2018

Some conservative House Republicans made it clear Friday in voting down the 2018 farm bill: They’re not interested in a farm bill without working on immigration first.

Thirty Republicans and every Democrat voted against the farm bill, which failed 198-213 in the full House.

Freedom Caucus members said they would not support the farm bill unless there was a vote on a tough immigration bill, seeking things like permits for temporary guest workers whom agriculture relies but without allowing the possibility of citizenship. Democrats objected to the bill for a variety of reasons, including expanding work requirements for people who receive federal food aid through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

House Agriculture Committee chairman Mike Conaway, a Texas Republican, called the vote “a setback … after a streak of victories all week.”

“We may be down, but we are not out,” he said in a statement.

But Democratic committee member Rep. Cheri Bustos of Illinois criticized the Republicans for drafting the bill without including Democrats.

“Now that this fake Farm Bill has been defeated,” Bustos said in a statement, “I hope Washington Republicans will abandon their one-party approach to governing and instead work with us to develop a real Farm Bill that will grow the economy, feed the hungry and provide the stability our farmers need to succeed.”

About every five years, Congress must pass a new farm bill. It includes programs for commodity supports, conservation, forestry and nutrition assistance. The current farm bill expires Sept. 30, but, like farmers, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue is hoping to avoid a vote driven by that deadline.

“A Farm Bill is necessary to provide our farmers, ranchers, foresters, and producers with the stability and predictability they need,” Perdue said in a statement Friday. “Our farmers feed the people of this nation and the world, and they deserve the certainty of a Farm Bill.”

The 2014 farm bill also only emerged after a rejection vote from the House. Then, the failure was seen as a shock because the bill had traditionally enjoyed bipartisan support.

Partisan divisions in the House version of the 2018 farm bill were clear as soon as the agriculture committee advanced the bill with zero Democrats voting in favor. That was a departure from the usual coalition that pairs rural Republicans and urban Democrats.

“The tradition of a bipartisan bill that doesn’t slash into the SNAP program is a tradition that had a reason for it,” said Jim Weill, president of the Food Research and Action Center, which opposes expanded work requirements. “They have to start over and look for more compromise.”

The Senate has yet to bring up its own version of the bill, though agriculture committee members including Iowa Republican Chuck Grassley and ranking Michigan Democrat Debbie Stabenow have repeatedly called for a bipartisan bill.

Some reforms being pushed by farm groups were rejected early on, including capping the amount of federal dollars a farmer could get to help pay for crop insurance premiums and changing subsidies in the U.S. sugar market.

One amendment that made it through, sponsored by Iowa GOP Rep. Steve King would have made drainage districts eligible for certain federal conservation contracts. While he said the change would make the Environmental Quality Incentives Program stronger, opponents like the Union of Concerned Scientists saw it as a nod to big industry players.

“They essentially say, let’s devise a rule that we can live with but that actually pre-empts what individual states are doing,” said the union’s sustainable agriculture analyst Ricardo Salvador said. “Let’s not fight this battle 50 times, let’s go for some federal legislation and then that sets the bar.”

Harvest Public Media reporter Grant Gerlock contributed to this report. Follow Amy on Twitter: @AgAmyInAmes