In a stunning move, the U.S. House voted against approving farm bill legislation Thursday, leaving the bill's future up in the air.
The House rejected the farm bill on a final tally of 234-195 after a day of dramatic, tight votes on amendments to the bill.
Facing a raft of challenges from all sides – from liberal Democrats objecting to the levels of cuts to the food stamp program to conservative Republicans charging the bill is too expensive – the farm bill always faced a rocky road in the House. In the end Thursday, House leaders couldn’t cobble together enough votes, especially with many fiscally conservative Republicans opposing the bill.
The final tally had the bill going down 234-195. Sixty-two Republicans defied party leadership and voted against the bill, while just 24 Democrats voted for it.
The farm bill charts government policy on a wide range of programs, from food stamps to farm subsidies. This version would have cut $2 billion from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), or food stamps. Many Republicans were hoping for more cuts, while many Democrats thought the cuts too onerous. Those strange bedfellows formed the base of the dissent.
Chad Hart, a professor of economics at Iowa State, says that leaves the policy farmers base their decisions on tangled up in politics. A fight over food stamps sunk the bill, taking farm programs with it.
“It’s not just strictly about Midwestern ag anymore,” Hart said. “The reason the nutrition title is in the farm bill is because we look at a farm bill as a food bill, a feed bill – it’s also an energy bill, if you will, because of the use of ethanol.”
What happens now? No one knows. Last year, the House failed to even take up the farm bill on the House floor. That led to an eleventh-hour agreement on a one-year extension of the previous farm bill, which expires Sept. 30.
Farmers, who depend on clear government policy to make important decisions, say uncertainty makes it virtually impossible to start thinking about next year’s planting season. A farm bill in limbo doesn’t help.
“It definitely continues the uncertainty we’ve seen on federal policy,” Hart said. “It does raise the question of, Will we see larger cuts to farm bill programs with the next iteration of farm bill attempts here?”
Larger cuts could mean less money for food stamps in an effort to win back Republican votes. Or, lawmakers could trim money from farm programs like subsidized crop insurance in order to see more savings.
“For an Iowa corn farmer, you’re still in that holding pattern,” Hart said.
Mike Haley, an Ohio farmer, voiced frustration with the farm bill vote on Twitter.
“All I ask (for) is direction, Congress,” Haley wrote. “I'm disappointed (you) have no plans for where agriculture should be going in the future.”
The Senate passed its farm bill earlier this month. If a bill emerges from the House, it will need to be reconciled with the Senate version before it heads to President Obama’s desk.
Both House and Senate leaders have said they hope to hammer out compromise legislation before lawmakers head home for the August recess, which begins Aug. 3. But that certainly looks doubtful now, without a House bill to work with.