January 29

House passes farm bill over conservatives’ objections

The measure, likely to pass the Senate, has been at the core of a years-long battle over food stamps.

By Mary Clare Jalonick
The Associated Press

WASHINGTON – After years of setbacks, a nearly $100 billion-a-year compromise farm bill cleared the House on Wednesday despite strong opposition from conservatives who sought a bigger cut in food stamps.

click image to enlarge

Three combines harvest winter wheat near Roggen, Colo. The House passed a farm bill Wednesday that continues to heavily subsidize major crops.

2009 Associated Press File Photo

The five-year bill, which preserves generous crop subsidies, heads to the Senate, where approval seems certain. The White House said President Barack Obama would sign it.

The measure, which the House approved 251-166, had backing from the Republican leadership team, even though it makes smaller cuts to food stamps than they would have liked. After wavering for several years, the Republican leaders were seeking to put the long-stalled bill behind them and build on the success of a bipartisan budget passed earlier this month. Leaders in both parties also were hoping to bolster rural candidates in this year’s midterm elections.

House Speaker John Boehner did not cast a vote on the bill, a commonplace practice for a speaker, but he had issued a statement Monday saying it was “worthy of the House’s support.” Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., voted for the bill despite concerns from some in her caucus that the bill cut too much from the food stamp program.

Maine’s Rep. Mike Michaud voted in favor and Rep. Chellie Pingree voted against the bill. Both are Democrats. Pingree’s website says she opposed the bill because it “cuts food stamps for the neediest families, doesn’t do enough to create real reform to crop subsidy programs and creates loopholes that guarantee income for big agri-businesses.”

The bill ultimately would cut about $800 million a year from the $80 billion-a-year food stamp program, or around 1 percent. The House had sought a 5 percent cut.

The legislation also would continue to heavily subsidize major crops for the nation’s farmers while eliminating some subsidies and shifting them toward more politically defensible insurance programs.

House Agriculture Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., called the compromise a “miracle” after trying to get the bill passed for almost three years. An early version of the legislation was defeated on the House floor last June after conservatives said the food stamp cuts were too modest and liberal Democrats said they were too deep.

The House later passed a bill with a higher, $4 billion cut, arguing at the time that the program had spiraled out of control after costs doubled in the last five years. But cuts that high were ultimately not possible after the Senate balked and the White House threatened a veto. The Senate had sought a cut of $400 million annually.

Many House conservatives still voted against the bill – 63 Republicans opposed it, one more than in June.

One of those conservative opponents was Rep. Marlin Stutzman, R-Ind. “It spends money we simply don’t have,” he said.

But 89 Democrats supported it, bolstered by the lower cut in food stamps. The top Democrat on the agriculture panel, Minnesota Rep. Collin Peterson, said he also enticed some of his colleagues with more money for fruit, vegetable and organic programs.

The final savings in the food stamp program would come from cracking down on some states that seek to boost individual food stamp benefits by giving people small amounts of federal heating assistance that they don’t need. That heating assistance, sometimes as low as $1 per person, triggers higher benefits, and some critics see that practice as circumventing the law. The compromise bill would require states to give individual recipients at least $20 in heating assistance before a higher food stamp benefit could kick in.

Some Democrats said the food stamp cut still is too high.

Rep. Jim McGovern of Massachusetts, one of the states that have boosted benefits through heating assistance, said the cut will be harmful on top of automatic food stamp cuts that went into place in November.

(Continued on page 2)

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