The House passed a $383 million drought-assistance package for livestock producers and some fruit farmers by a 223-197 vote.
The measure — a last-ditch effort to provide some aid to farmers struggling through a drought affecting more than half of the lower 48 states — will be offset by cuts to conservation programs and extends a disaster-relief program that expired last year.
The House has not been able to move its version of a five-year farm bill, which would cost about $500 billion over five years and cut $16.1 billion from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly known as food stamps. Between conservatives in the House wanting to cut more from food stamps and Democrats thinking it already cut too much, the farm bill had little chance of passage.
The next plan was to extend the 2008 farm bill and include a disaster-relief package. But when it became clear that it, too, would fail, GOP leadership decided to move the drought bill on its own.
“My priority remains to get a five-year farm bill on the books and put those policies in place, but the most pressing business before us is to provide disaster assistance to those producers impacted by the drought conditions who are currently exposed,” House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., said earlier this week in a statement.
The disaster-aid bill was originally to be brought up under suspension of the rules, but it became apparent on Wednesday evening that many Democrats would not support the bill and that it might not get the two-thirds majority it needed. After calling for an emergency rules meeting, the bill only needed a simple majority to pass.
“This bill is just another indication of the Republicans doing something that doesn't meet the needs of our economy," House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said in a press conference. "Our economy needs us to have a farm bill."
The drought-assistance package will likely not be taken up by the Senate before the August recess begins. Senate Agriculture Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., has said that the next step is to continue negotiating in the coming weeks, with the goal still to get a five-year bill into law.