House rejects its own farm bill

WASHINGTON – Thursday, the U.S. House’s version of the federal farm bill was rejected due to a partisan stalemate over funding for food stamps.

The House bill had been supported by the likes of the USA Rice Federation and was largely championed by Louisiana sugar and rice farmers.

The Louisiana congressional delegation was divided on the vote with Reps. Bill Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge; Charles Boustany, R-Lafayette; and Rodney Alexander, R-Quitman, backing the legislation. Reps. Steve Scalise, R-Jefferson; John Fleming, R-Minden; and Cedric Richmond, D-New Orleans, were opposed.

The bill was defeated on a vote of 195 for to 234 against.

Many of the 62 Republicans say they voted against the measure primarily because they did not consider more than $20 billion in food stamp cuts to be enough.

Many of the 172 Democrats apparently voted against the measure opposed the cuts to the food stamp program, called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, as overly draconian. Some Democrats opted to oppose it only on Thursday after an amendment was added a new work requirement as a condition to receiving SNAP.

The SNAP funding was the largest difference between the House and Senate offerings of this year’s federal farm bill.

Louisiana Agriculture and Forestry Commissioner Mike Strain was quick to criticize the voting results.

“I’m a little upset,” Strain said. “Not voting the farm bill out is totally unacceptable … It’s being held hostage by politics.”

He said House members must “roll up their sleeves” and get back to work on winning more support for the bill before the August congressional recess and before the current farm bill expires in the fall. The industry needs stability so banks will feel free to issue loans to farmers so they will feel comfortable investing in planting crops, Strain said.

Alexander said he is frustrated with both political sides. He argued that making even more food stamp cuts would make it impossible to meld a compromise with the bill that passed the Senate with the backing of Louisiana’s Sens. Mary Landrieu, a Democrat, and David Vitter, a Republican.

“We’ve got a mess and that’s where we find ourselves,” Alexander said. “(GOP House) Leadership is going to have to make some deals with the ultra-conservatives.”

Some self-described conservative groups, such as Heritage Action and the Club for Growth, had warned that Republican members would be punished in voting scorecards, if they backed the farm bill. Most of the opposing GOP votes came from the staunchly conservative Republican Study Committee caucus, which is now chaired by Scalise.

“Steve is chairman of that conservative group and he’s having to watch how he votes,” Alexander said.

Scalise and Fleming responded to interview requests with emailed statements. Both cited the food stamps debate.

“I am a proud supporter of the American farmer and will continue working to help Louisiana farmers remain competitive, but this bill was much less about farm policy and, instead, was primarily an expanded welfare bill,” Scalise stated.

Fleming wrote that food stamp funding has greatly expanded in recent years and that the bill included $750 billion in SNAP dollars over the next decade, which makes up the bulk of the farm bill’s overall cost.

“Farmers in Louisiana have been waiting for a good farm bill out of Washington and I would have been glad to vote for one. This bill was not it,” Fleming stated.

Richmond also responded with emailed statement route that took an opposite position for opposing the bill. In Louisiana, 20 percent of the state’s residents qualify for food stamps and Richmond stated that more than half of those are households with children.

“We are in need of a bipartisan farm bill that addresses the real needs of our vulnerable citizens and treats Louisiana’s agricultural industries, including our sugar industry, fairly,” Richmond wrote. “Unfortunately, the proposed $21 billion in cuts to SNAP funding would have dealt a hefty blow to my poorest constituents who rely on food assistance programs just to survive.”

In a prepared statement though, Boustany argued that opponents had “ill-founded” objections.

“Louisiana farmers and rural communities support a fiscally responsible farm bill,” Boustany stated.

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