Farm Bill Finally Passes the House

The 959-page legislation advanced Wednesday with the lower-chamber support it lacked last year.

National Journal
Sarah Mimms Marina Koren
Jan. 29, 2014, 6:01 a.m.

Nearly 48 hours after con­gres­sion­al ne­go­ti­at­ors re­vealed the le­gis­la­tion, the five-year farm bill passed the House by a 251-166 vote Wed­nes­day morn­ing.

Sixty-three Re­pub­lic­ans and 103 Demo­crats op­posed the bill, which now heads to the Sen­ate, where pas­sage is ex­pec­ted as early as Thursday. Pres­id­ent Obama has said he will sign it, ful­filling one of his three ma­jor pri­or­it­ies for 2013 — the budget, im­mig­ra­tion re­form, and a farm bill — a few weeks late.

So far, ad­dress­ing the na­tion’s long-term ag­ri­cul­ture policy has seen smooth­er sail­ing in Con­gress than it did last year. Wed­nes­day’s vote comes just six months after the le­gis­la­tion, which typ­ic­ally sails through Con­gress, un­ex­pec­tedly failed in the House when Re­pub­lic­an lead­er­ship mis­cal­cu­lated sup­port. The 2013 bill went down thanks in part to the con­ser­vat­ive push for large cuts to the food-stamp pro­gram that pulled any Demo­crat­ic sup­port away from the le­gis­la­tion.

The Sen­ate had passed its own ver­sion of the le­gis­la­tion, which in­cluded few­er cuts to the food-stamp pro­gram than its House coun­ter­part, but ne­go­ti­ations stalled after the failed House vote. The House passed a scaled-down ver­sion of its own bill in Ju­ly, but it did not in­clude food-stamp policy.

The new bill cuts about $8 bil­lion from the Sup­ple­ment­al Nu­tri­tion As­sist­ance Pro­gram (food stamps) over five years — about double what the Sen­ate ver­sion of the bill re­ques­ted, but less than half of what House ne­go­ti­at­ors wanted. Those cuts of­fen­ded many pro­gress­ives, who op­posed the bill Wed­nes­day.

Dozens of Re­pub­lic­ans de­cried the bill. The 959-page le­gis­la­tion was re­leased Monday night, giv­ing law­makers less than 48 hours to read it. Mem­bers on both sides of the aisle com­plained that Speak­er John Boehner had broken House Re­pub­lic­ans’ own pledge to al­low mem­bers three days to read bills be­fore they hit the floor. And sev­er­al con­ser­vat­ives warned they could not sup­port le­gis­la­tion that may in­clude a num­ber of pork pro­jects that they wouldn’t no­tice un­til after the bill had passed.

The 2014 le­gis­la­tion is the res­ult of months of ne­go­ti­ations between con­fer­ees from both cham­bers, led by the two Ag­ri­cul­ture com­mit­tees’ chairs, Demo­crat­ic Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan and GOP Rep. Frank Lu­cas of Ok­lahoma. The Con­gres­sion­al Budget Of­fice has es­tim­ated that the bill will spend $956 bil­lion over five years and cut $16.6 bil­lion in over­all spend­ing over 10 years.

Be­fore the 15-minute vote began, Lu­cas called the farm-bill deal close to a “mir­acle.”

After wit­ness­ing the farm bill’s sud­den fail­ure last year, Stabenow spent Wed­nes­day morn­ing in the House Demo­crat­ic cloak­room to en­cour­age her col­leagues to back the le­gis­la­tion and watch the fi­nal vote.

“I was ex­tremely pleased with the fi­nal tally,” Stabenow said after the vote. “I learned a long time ago that it’s not over un­til the vote is closed, so I wanted to make ab­so­lutely sure…. I came over to be per­son­ally in­volved to make sure that didn’t hap­pen again.”

House Ag­ri­cul­ture Com­mit­ee rank­ing mem­ber Col­lin Peterson, D-Minn., said he re­peatedly told Stabenow to calm down, re­as­sur­ing her that they’d have the votes. “Stabenow, she was all over the place. She was run­ning all over the floor,” he joked.

Stabenow still has the Sen­ate to worry about, though she pre­dicted that the bill will pass. Lu­cas, however, is off the hook.

After the vote, Lu­cas said he would spend the af­ter­noon cel­eb­rat­ing by fi­nally get­ting a few minutes to him­self to “let the blood pres­sure level drop just a little bit.”

COR­REC­TION: An earli­er ver­sion of this story gave the in­cor­rect state for Rep. Col­lin Peterson. He rep­res­ents Min­nesota.

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