By Barbara Olejnik
Poultry Times Staff
GAINESVILLE, Ga. — The House of Representatives on May 18 defeated the 2018 Farm Bill on a 213 to 198 vote — a move that saw Republicans defecting from their party to vote with Democrats against the bill.
Some 30 Republicans joined with every Democrat in the chamber in opposition to the $858 billion legislation — the Agriculture and Nutrition Act (H.R.2).
The vote saw Republicans split among the conservative Freedom Caucus and the Republican leadership.
The conservatives had demanded prior action on immigration while Democrats opposed legislation imposing stricter food stamp rules.
Freedom Caucus members demanded the House first vote on immigration legislation in exchange for their support of the agriculture and nutrition legislation.
Democrats opposed the Farm Bill due to legislation that would overhaul the $70 billion a year Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), also known as the food stamp program.
Republican plans to tighten eligibility for SNAP would have required able-bodied adults without dependents to work at least 20 hours a week or enroll in a state education and training program.
Experts have estimated that the tougher work requirements would amount to more than $20 billion in cuts to the program’s benefits and impact more than 1 million people.
The farm bill dates back to the 1930s, was last reauthorized in 2014 and is set to expire Sept. 30, 2018, unless reauthorized again.
The farm bill reauthorization sets aside money for farm subsidies, rural development, environmental conservation programs as well as funds for food stamps and other nutrition assistance.
The food stamp program was added to the farm bill legislation in the 1970s as a means of persuading urban lawmakers to vote for a safety net for farmers.
“President Donald J. Trump is disappointed in the result of today’s vote in the House of Representatives on the Farm bill, and hopes the House can resolve any remaining issues in order to achieve strong work requirements and support our Nation’s agricultural community,” Lindsay Walters, White House deputy press secretary, wrote in a statement. “The Administration underscores the need to bring certainty to our farmers and ranchers and to the many Americans receiving food assistance, and will continue to work with Congress to pass a Farm bill on time.”
U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue also noted that “A Farm Bill is necessary to provide our farmers, ranchers, foresters and producers with the stability and predictability they need. Our farmers feed the people of this nation and the world, and they deserve the certainty of a Farm Bill.”
While the May vote defeated the Farm Bill in the House, Republicans could bring up the bill under a separate rule at any time. A second vote could come in June.
Meanwhile, the Senate is expected to begin work in early summer on its own version of a Farm Bill.
If both the Senate and the House are able to pass a Farm Bill, those two bills will have to be reconciled in a conference committee and again approved by both chambers before it can be sent to the president for signature.
However, both chambers could also agree on an extension of current legislation.
Agricultural industry groups weighed in on the failure of the House to pass the Farm Bill.
American Farm Bureau President Zippy Duvall said, “We are already starting to hear from farmers across the nation, many of whom are perplexed and outraged at this morning’s vote. They are facing very real financial challenges. We call on all members of Congress not to use farmers and ranchers as pawns in a political game. The risk management tools of the farm bill are too important, particularly at a time of depressed farm prices. We urge the House to pass H.R.2 as soon as possible.”
Kevin Skunes, president of the National Corn Growers Association, added, “NCGA urges House leaders to quickly find a way forward to pass a new farm bill as soon as possible. Depressed commodity prices, the increasing threat of a trade war and disruptions in the ethanol market are creating uncertainty across rural America. Our farmers need clarity on the prospects of a new farm bill signed into law this year.”
The American Soybean Association expressed “deep disappointment” over failure of the Farm Bill. “U.S. soybean growers and everyone involved in agriculture depend on this vital piece of legislation,” said ASA President John Heisdorffer. “This bill provides a farm safety net, improves conservation, places value on exports and feeds our nation.”
The House vote on the Farm Bill is a “disappointing outcome for American cattlemen and women,” said Allison Cooke, executive director of government affairs for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association. “It is critical that Congress pass a new Farm Bill before September 30th to provide certainty for cattle and beef producers.”