A House divided: Farm bill is fall guy

Political or dysfunctional. Take your pick for describing the U.S. House of Representatives’ actions when the farm bill came up for a vote on the floor.

Like the attorney who never asks a question without knowing the answer, legislators rarely let a bill come to a floor vote without knowing how the vote will turn out, or close to it.

The farm bill wasn’t even close. It failed 195-234.

Shortly after the bill went down, Rep. Collin Peterson, of Minnesota, the ranking Democrat on the ag committee, was asked by reporters on the Hill what people should read from this defeat.

“That we can’t get our act together — the House of Representatives.”

And U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told Chris Clayton, DTN ag policy editor, “It’s incredible.”

“There has never been a problem — a Democrat-Republican issue on the farm bill. It’s always been regional and commodity differences, but eventually people found consensus. So this is a historic failure. There’s just no other way to describe it.”

Ohio’s yes votes came from Republicans Boehner, Gibbs, Johnson, Joyce, Latta, Renacci, Stivers, Tiberi and Turner. In the “no” column, Republicans Chabot, Jordan and Wenstrup joined Democrats Beatty, Fudge, Kaptur and Ryan.

Pa. Republicans voting for the farm bill included Barletta, Dent, Fitzpatrick, Gerlach, Kelly, Marino, Murphy and Thompson.

The state’s Democrats — Brady, Cartwright, Doyle, Fattah and Schwartz — all voted no, joined by Republicans Meehan, Perry, Pitts, Rothfus and Shuster.

In all, the “nay” vote drew 62 Republicans and 172 Democrats, while the “yes” column ended with 171 Republicans and 24 Democrats. (See how the votes break down.)

The House is 0 for 2 in its attempts at writing a farm bill. It couldn’t get it done last summer either, which triggered the current nine-month extension of the 2008 farm bill.

This farm bill vote is bigger than the farm bill. It illustrates just how fractured the House is as a whole in its ability to get the job — any job — done.

The House version fell apart with the addition of the dairy amendment (the Goodlatte-Scott amendment would’ve stripped the margin insurance and market stabilization of the Dairy Security Act from the farm bill) and the adoption of Rep. Steve Southerland’s amendment to institute work requirements for those who receive food stamps.

D.C. media reported Peterson told House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., not to accept the Southerland amendment, that it would cost votes. But when heavyweights like House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., added a statement in support of the Southerland amendment, Lucas left it in. And the votes ran away.

The bill was already under fire for massive cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, the food stamp program. And those cuts prompted the President’s senior advisors to recommend President Barack Obama veto the House version of the bill, if those cuts stayed in the final bill.

More than 80 percent of the dollars in the farm bill go toward food and nutrition programs like SNAP. Historically, the ag coalition has said it needs those dollars — those urban legislators — to get any farm legislation passed at all. Now, calls to separate the two issues are getting louder, including the voice of Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., one-time presidential hopeful.

In February, I was in a room with a bunch of ag folks listening to longtime journalist Jerry Hagstrom, who has covered agriculture in D.C. for decades.

“Food and agriculture are hot topics,” he said, but added bluntly, “Agriculture has been doing so well that nobody is worried about it.”

Except for the ones who plow and plant and harvest. And those who feed, and milk and assume all the risk. But no one asked them, did they?

“I have a hard time seeing where we go from here,” said Rep. Collin Peterson in a prepared statement.

So do we.

Let’s make that political AND dysfunctional.

About the Author

Farm and Dairy Editor Susan Crowell has been with the paper since 1985, serving as its editor since 1989. Raised on a farm in Holmes County, she is a graduate of Kent State University. You can follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/scrowell and follow Farm and Dairy at http://twitter.com/farmanddairy. You can also find her on Google+ and Facebook. More Stories by Susan Crowell

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