House rejection of farm bill sows bad seeds for Boehner

The House rejected the massive farm bill Thursday after conservative Republicans banded with Democrats, dealing a major defeat to House Speaker John A. Boehner and the GOP leadership and raising questions about the chamber’s ability to pass any ambitious legislation this year.

Lawmakers defeated the bill on a 234-195 vote after they approved cutting food-stamp benefits by $2 billion a year — a move that turned off many urban Democrats but failed to assuage conservative Republicans who said the measure was still too bloated for them to back it.

Mr. Boehner, who abandoned the farm bill last year, threw his support behind legislation this year only to see it fail when Democrats vented their anger over Republican-led changes.

Moments before the vote, House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank D. Lucas, Oklahoma Republican, pleaded with his colleagues to ignore outside influences and green-light the half-trillion-dollar bill for the sake of farmers, consumers and the chamber’s integrity.

“I plead to you. I implore you. Put aside whatever the latest email is, or the latest flier is, or whatever comment or rumor you’ve heard from people near you or around you,” Mr. Lucas said. “Assess the situation. Look at the bill.”

But only 24 Democrats voted for passage, compared with 171 Republicans. Sixty-two Republicans opposed the bill.

Republicans blamed Democrats. They said their membership lived up to its count but that Democrats balked at the last moment and doomed the bill to defeat. GOP aides said Democrats were supposed to supply 40 votes of support.

Rep. Collin C. Peterson, the Minnesota Democrat who wrote the bill with Mr. Lucas, said his party was caught off guard Thursday by an amendment from Rep. Steve Southerland II, Florida Republican, that allowed states to impose federal work requirements on food-stamp requirements.

“I warned them, but nobody listened,” he said, arguing that the timing of the Southerland proposal was “terrible.”

House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, told Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Virginia Republican, that the GOP turned a bipartisan bill into a partisan bill through its amendments.

“Your side upped the ante,” he said.

Mr. Cantor said the Southerland amendment was merely a pilot program that encouraged able-bodied beneficiaries to obtain employment and that Democratic leadership knew about it long ago.

The resounding defeat of the bill — a traditionally bipartisan endeavor — left farmers facing yet another extension of existing benefits in lieu of firm legislation, even as the House girds for a much more contentious battle to reform the nation’s immigration system.

Mr. Peterson said the House could make another attempt at the farm bill but is unlikely to take up a Senate version that passed earlier this month.

The House bill cut the food-stamp program — now known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) — by $20 billion over 10 years, or a little more than 3 percent, and made it more difficult for some people to qualify for the benefits.

Already entrenched over the issue, the chamber on Wednesday defeated an amendment from Rep. James P. McGovern, Massachusetts Democrat, by a 234-188 vote, that would have restored the $20 billion in SNAP reductions over the next 10 years by cutting subsidies to farmers.

The Senate cut food stamps less aggressively, shaving off about $400 million a year, or half a percent.

The bill was defeated hours after the House plowed through a slew of amendments, including one that replaced what Mr. Boehner called a “Soviet-style” dairy program with an insurance program that is commonly tied to other farm commodities.

After the bill’s defeat, Mr. Peterson called out to Mr. Lucas while reporters swarmed the men in the Speaker’s Lobby. But the agriculture chairman said he had to “go heal up.”

“I appreciate your work,” Mr. Lucas said.

“Yours too,” Mr. Peterson said. “We’ll figure it out.”

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