by MARY CLARE JALONICK, Capital Press July
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The House passed Thursday
a scaled-down version of a massive farm bill, putting off a
fight over food stamp spending and giving Republican leaders
a victory after a decisive defeat on the larger bill last
The GOP leaders scrambled to get the bill to
the floor and gather enough votes after deciding to drop a
politically sensitive food stamp section of the bill and
pass legislation that contained only farm programs.
They faced significant opposition to the plan
from Democrats, farm groups and conservative groups that
threatened to use the vote against GOP members in future
campaigns. But Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., navigated
his colleagues to a narrow 216-208 vote by convincing
Republican members that this was the best chance to get the
bill passed and erase the embarrassment of the June defeat.
Any other path to passage would have most
likely included concessions to Democrats who opposed the
Last month 62 Republicans voted against the
original $100 billion-a-year bill after Boehner and Cantor
supported it. Only 12 Republicans voted against the new
measure and no Democrats voted for it.
Republicans said the food stamp part of the
legislation would be dealt with separately at a later date,
and Cantor said after the vote that Republicans would "act
with dispatch" to get that legislation to the floor.
Just hours before Thursday's expected floor
vote, it was still unclear whether GOP leaders had the votes
needed to pass the new measure containing only farm
programs. The legislation faced a veto threat from the White
House, and House Democrats reacted angrily to the
last-minute move by the GOP.
Conservative groups and farm groups
traditionally aligned with Republicans were also lobbying
against the measure, as was the top Democrat on the House
Agriculture Committee, Minnesota Rep. Collin Peterson.
But GOP leaders moved quickly. The
night-before release of the bill's text underscored the
lengths to which House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio had to
go as he tried to get legislation past his fractious
Splitting the popular farm bill from the
controversial food stamp cuts, and releasing the bill's text
at 8 p.m. EDT on the eve of the scheduled vote Thursday,
denied conservatives the time to rally opposition to it. But
the bill's prospects remained a tense question through the
Before the vote, Boehner acknowledged that
the process was unusual but said, "My goal right now is to
get a farm bill passed."
The dropped food stamp section would have
made a 3 percent cut to the $80 billion-a-year feeding
program. Many Republicans say that isn't enough since the
program's cost has doubled in the last five years. Democrats
have opposed any cuts. The food stamp program doesn't need
legislation to continue, but Congress would have to pass a
bill to enact changes.
The idea of a split bill was to pass the farm
programs -- the Congressional Budget Office calculates they
would cost about $20 billion a year and contain about $1.3
billion a year in cuts to farm subsidies -- and take the
food stamp portion up later. Republicans could then be able
to make bigger cuts to the food programs and pass that bill
with conservative support.
In voting for the bill, conservative
lawmakers made the unusual move of bucking the conservative
groups Club for Growth and Heritage Action, both of which
said they would use a "yes" vote against Republicans in
future campaigns. While those groups originally supported
the idea of dropping the food stamps and taking that part of
the bill up separately, they later said the GOP idea was a
ruse to get the bill in conference with the Democratic-led
Senate, where food stamps will be added back in with smaller
The Senate overwhelmingly passed a farm bill
last month with only a half-percent cut to food stamps and
would be reluctant to go along with a split bill or further
cuts to the programs.
During the floor debate, House Democrats
angrily opposed the bill and called for a series of
procedural votes to delay. They painted the legislation as
taking the food stamps away from the hungry.
"You are taking food out of the mouths of
your own poor constituents," House Minority Leader Nancy
Pelosi, D-Calif., told Republicans in a floor speech.
The White House agreed that food stamps
should not be left out of the bill and threatened to veto
it. The Obama administration had also threatened to veto the
original bill, saying it did not include enough reductions
to farm subsidies and the food stamp cuts were too severe.
Farm groups and anti-hunger groups have
warned that separating the farm and nutrition programs after
decades of linking them would be misguided. Rural lawmakers
have long added money for food stamps to the farm bill,
which sets policy for agricultural subsidies and other farm
programs, to gather urban votes for the measure.
The vote was a welcome victory for
Republicans who have struggled to bring their majority
together on even bigger issues like immigration and the
"Thank God, we can do something!" exclaimed
Rep. Tom Rooney R-Fla., as he walked off the floor after the