THE House must go back to the drawing board after it failed to approve its version of the farm bill on a 195-234 vote last Thursday.
Earlier in the week, the House Rules Committee approved 103 of the 229 amendments to the farm bill as part of the debate that ran from Wednesday afternoon until midnight and then started up again with final votes in the late morning and early afternoon on Thursday.
RDL & Associates president Dave Ladd said the vote proves that nothing is certain, especially in the political arena with what he called an "unexpected" failure to pass the bill.
He explained that Democrats were relentless all week in their opposition to the $20.5 billion in proposed cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The Senate version includes just $4.5 billion in SNAP cuts.
During debate, House Agriculture Committee chairman Frank Lucas (R., Okla.) consistently spoke out against higher or lower SNAP cuts, stating that his mark offered the right starting point to use heading into conference negotiations with the Senate. Attempts to increase cuts to $31 billion or eliminate the cuts altogether were both defeated.
Mary Kay Thatcher, farm policy specialist at the American Farm Bureau Federation, noted that she doesn't think food stamps were 100% of the problem with the vote. Many in the House had come to terms with the cuts to SNAP, but things went sour when House majority leader Eric Cantor (R., Va.) spoke on the floor of the need to give states the right to institute federal welfare work requirements to SNAP beneficiaries and when it passed 227-198.
Where to go from here is one of the biggest unanswered questions. "The path forward is fairly muddy and fairly unclear," Ladd said.
After the vote, Senate Agriculture Committee chair Debbie Stabenow (D., Mich.) suggested that the House take up the Senate's version. Thatcher said the House leaders are very unlikely to take that approach since the Senate farm bill has been criticized for being too favorable to midwestern producers.
She expects the Republican leadership to take time during its next caucus meeting to determine the next steps.
Lucas noted in a statement that "$40 billion in deficit reduction, elimination of direct payments and the first reforms to SNAP since 1996 are so important that we must continue to pursue them."
During last year's last-minute farm bill extension, Sen. Harry Reid (D., Nev.) said he would not support an extension with direct payments in it as he did then. So, leaders must come up with another approach that allows legislators to use savings from the direct payment elimination and other reforms to help fund some of the new programs they're seeking.
An alternative dairy program that removes the dairy supply management component from Rep. Collin Peterson's (D., Minn.) Dairy Security Act passed by a surprisingly sound vote of 291-135.
Speaker of the House John Boehner (R., Ohio) had sent a note to Republicans calling for their support of the amendment, which Thatcher said helped buoy numbers for the final vote.
A statement from one of the amendment's largest supporters, the International Dairy Foods Assn., said the "momentum is now strongly against supply management for our dairy industry."
House minority leader Nancy Pelosi (D., Cal.) noted, however, that its inclusion was one of the poison pills of the final package and said Boehner's "dedication to the dairy processors of dairy farmers" was one of the two "seeds of destruction" for passage.
A statement from Jerry Kozak, president and chief executive officer of the National Milk Producers Federation, called the amendment's approval a "hollow victory for its proponents."
He noted that his group is "hopeful that the House and Senate will eventually find a way to write a compromise farm bill. When they do, we believe the agriculture conferees who develop that final bill will understand the importance of the more balanced approach to dairy policy contained in the Senate-passed farm bill."
Meanwhile, an attempt to reform some aspects of the sugar program was voted down 206-221.
Although not passed, an amendment to reform international food aid by stipulating that no more than 45% of funds may be used to purchase U.S. commodities — which coincided with the President's budget proposal — just narrowly failed on a 203-220 vote.
An amendment proposed by Rep. Rick Crawford (R., Ark.) to modify the exemption levels of oil spill prevention passed by voice vote. Another from Crawford prohibiting the Environmental Protection Agency from disclosing the private information of farmers and ranchers also passed by voice vote.
An amendment by Reps. Steve Chabot (R., Ohio) and Tom McClintock (R., Cal.) that sought to repeal Section 3102, which reauthorizes the Market Access Program through 2018, was defeated 322-98.
In a tactical move that legislators said was designed to better set up conference committee negotiations, an amendment from Rep. Bob Gibbs (R., Ohio) to adjust target prices was withdrawn.
An amendment from Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R., Neb.) to tie conservation compliance to eligibility for crop insurance subsidies was withdrawn on the floor. His language is included in the Senate version and championed by a coalition of environmental and commodity groups.