Bipartisanship crumbles

Bipartisanship crumbles

AFTER years in the making, I had great hopes that bipartisanship would prevail in the House and it would pass a farm bill, but, as seen last week, that wasn't the case.

As House Agriculture Committee chairman Frank Lucas (R., Okla.) pleaded with members ahead of the final vote, the goal was to achieve consensus and have something to conference with the Senate.

No such luck.

For Democrats, the $20.5 billion in proposed cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program were too much to swallow (or not swallow for the 2 million people who would no longer receive benefits).

The far right of the Republican Party saw food stamps as another swelling entitlement program under this presidency and thought the bill spent too much money on agribusiness in general.

Lucas made a valiant attempt to try to manage the delicate balance by not supporting passage of any of the 103 amendments that would push the bill over the edge. He warned that if the House failed, "we just look like a dysfunctional body that can't get things done, and you know that's not true."

Dysfunction seems to be what farmers got June 20.

Within the approved amendments, Republican efforts to push the line a little further merely served to upset the bipartisanship that prevailed in the making of the House farm bill.

An amendment from Rep. Steve Southerland (R., Fla.) that would allow states to apply federal work requirements to the food stamp program was the last amendment vote on.

American Farm Bureau Federation farm policy specialist Mary Kay Thatcher said this was likely the final straw that caused many Democrats to vote no as things got ugly fast after that vote.

In a speech following the vote, House minority whip Steny Hoyer (D., Md.) said the bipartisan bill brought to the floor would have had the votes to win passage. However, when amendments approved by Republicans made it partisan, the bill met its demise.

In total, 171 Republicans and 24 Democrats supported the bill, while 62 Republicans and 172 Democrats opposed it.

"The farm bill failed to pass the House because the House Republicans could not control the extreme right wing of their party," Rep. Collin Peterson (D., Minn.) said. "From day 1, I cautioned my colleagues that, to pass a farm bill, we would have to work together. Instead, the House adopted a partisan amendment process, playing political games with extreme policies that have no chance of becoming law."

Peterson and Lucas have worked hand in hand to get a bill across the finish line, but some frustrations undoubtedly will need to be worked out in the weeks and months ahead as the members regroup.

"We are assessing all of our options, but I have no doubt that we will finish our work in the near future," Lucas said.

Peterson's reaction was less optimistic. "This flies in the face of nearly four years of bipartisan work done by the agriculture committee," he said. "I'll continue to do everything I can to get a farm bill passed, but I have a hard time seeing where we go from here."

Final passage will not come from the far right or the far left; it must come down the middle. Congress just needs to find a way to get there.

Volume:85 Issue:25

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