The U.S. House passed its version of farm bill legislation Thursday. The revamped bill strips out funding for food aid and deals only with farm policy, exposing a hefty rift in decades-old alliances between urban and rural legislators and between food aid and farm policy interests.
Now, that alliance has been battered.
“Agriculture has joined many of the other topics that are discussed in Congress in becoming a partisan debate of policy,” said Chad Hart, an economist with Iowa State University.
The House farm bill debate was so partisan, in fact, that not a single Democrat voted for the bill. The bill was approved 216-208, with 12 Republicans voting in opposition.
This new House farm bill comes after the House last month rejected a full five-year bill, in a surprising and tight vote. A block of conservative lawmakers voted against that bill because they hoped to cut more from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly called food stamps.
Republican House leaders regrouped and opted to entice more conservative votes by splitting the farm bill in two – voting only on the sections of the bill that deal with farm policy and leaving the contentious nutrition programs for another day. That angered many Democrats who are worried that splitting food aid from the farm bill will leave them powerless to protect SNAP funding and spells massive cuts to food aid.
“Overall the message was ugly today, but keep in mind, the bill passed today means absolutely nothing,” said Missouri Rep. Emanuel Cleaver.
The bill isn’t likely to become law.
“Just because the House passed the farm bill doesn’t mean we have one,” Hart said.
It’s doubtful the Democratically-controlled Senate will go along with a farm bill devoid of SNAP funding and the Obama Administration on Wednesday threatened to veto this version of the House farm bill.
“The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program is a cornerstone of our Nation’s food assistance safety net, and should not be left behind as the rest of the Farm Bill advances,” the White House said in a statement (PDF).
The Senate passed its farm bill earlier this month. Now, it’s up to a conference committee to reconcile the differences between the House and Senate versions and emerge with a singular bill capable of garnering the support of the majority of both houses of Congress.
The clock, though, is ticking. Congress’ August recess begins Aug. 3. After that, Congress is scheduled to work on about 40 of the year’s remaining days. Current farm legislation will expire Sept. 30.