A major piece of farm legislation went down to a surprising and dramatic defeat in the House on Thursday, as conservatives joined with most Democrats to oppose the $940 billion bill.
The House voted 195-234, with 62 Republicans joining 172 Democrats, to defeat the bill. The vote was regarded as a surprise, and represented an embarrassment to the House GOP leadership team.
President Barack Obama had threatened to veto the House legislation had it somehow eventually reached his desk.
Democrats were angry about the heavy cuts to food stamp programs contained in the Republican-written legislation, prompting all but 24 of them to oppose the legislation. Conservatives, who had come under pressure from groups like the Club for Growth and the Koch Brothers-linked Americans for Prosperity, cited concerns about the legislation’s hefty price tag in voting down the bill.
Farm bills are typically authorized in five-year increments, but an agreement on the latest installation of such legislation has eluded Congress. Farmers are currently operating under a farm bill from the beginning of this year that was extended, in parts, through the end of September.
Lawmakers from both parties were quick to trade blame for the farm bill’s defeat, which would have set up negotiations with the Senate to resolve differences between the House proposal and the farm legislation passed on June 10 by the Senate. Republicans said that Democrats had failed to produce the necessary votes to pass the legislation, while Democrats blamed ideological disunity within the GOP.
Republicans were broad-sided when the final bill failed to garner the votes for passage, with House Republican Leadership Aides saying that Democrats "didn't raise any issues before the vote, they came at the last minute and decided to play tricks."
"The question is: are Democrats in the House willing to govern, and today's demonstration proves that that might not be the case," Rory Cooper, the communications director for House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., told reporters.
In any case, Thursday’s vote is an unmistakable embarrassment for House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and the rest of the GOP leadership, which has seen some of their previous initiatives scuttled when conservatives refused to support legislation sought by the leadership. Most recently, Republican leaders had to withdraw legislation rededicating funds from “Obamacare” to supporting high-risk insurance pools, a pet proposal Cantor's.
The future of the Farm Bill is now very much in doubt, with no clear path forward on how to proceed. This bill was seen as a vehicle to go to conference with Senate Democrats, who passed their bill in June, and not as a final product, but House Democrats clearly thought that the message behind the bill involving food stamps had gone too far.
Senate Democrats, in statements following the failed House vote, called on the House to take up and pass the Senate legislation as-is.