Congress Needs to Find Middle Road to Pass Farm Bill

House farm bill failure outlines the need for legislators to again look to bipartisanship.

"If our country is to continue to be a world leader in agricultural production, we need our leaders in Washington to step up and do their part.”

I couldn't agree more with the above statement from Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D. following the House's 195-234 failure to pass a farm bill.

Final farm bill passage does not come from the far right or the far left. It must come down the middle. And Congress needs to find a way to get there as shown from its 195-234 failed vote Thursday.

After years in the making, I had great anticipation that bipartisanship would prevail in the House and the chamber would pass a farm bill. But as you saw, that wasn't the case.

Just as House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R., Okla.) pleaded with members ahead of the final vote, the goal was to achieve consensus and to get something to conference with the Senate.

No such luck.

For the Democrats the $20.5 billion in cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program were too much to swallow (or not swallow if you were one of the 2 million people no longer receiving benefits). And on the other side of the spectrum, the far right of the Republican Party saw food stamps as another growing entitlement program under this presidency as well as too much money spent on agribusinesses in general.

Lucas made a valiant attempt to try and manage the delicate balance of not supporting passage on any of the 103 amendments that would push the bill over the edge. He warned that if the House failed “we just look like a dysfunctional body that can’t get things done. And you know that’s not true."

Dysfunction seems to be what farmers got June 20.

But within the approved amendments, Republicans trying to push the line a little farther proved to upset the bipartisanship shown in the making of the House farm bill.

The last amendment vote was on an amendment from Rep. Steve Southerland, R-Fla., that allows states to apply federal work requirements to the food stamp program. Mary Kay Thatcher, American Farm Bureau Federation farm policy specialist, said this likely was the final straw that pushed many Democrats to vote no, as things got ugly fast following that vote.

A total of 58 Republicans voted no on the Southerland amendment that ended up voting no on the final passage, which House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) said was the Republican's own poison.

In total 171 Republicans and 24 Democrats supported the bill, while 62 Republicans and 172 Democrats opposed the bill.

In a speech on the floor following the vote, House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said the bipartisan bill brought to the floor would have had the votes to win passage. However, it was when amendments approved by Republicans made it partisan that became the end demise of the bill.

“The farm bill failed to pass the House because the House Republicans could not control the extreme right wing of their party," Peterson added. "From day one I cautioned my colleagues that to pass a farm bill we would have to work together. Instead, the House adopted a partisan amendment process, playing political games with extreme policies that have no chance of becoming law."

Both Peterson and Lucas have worked hand-in-hand to get a bill across the finish line. But there undoubtedly will need to be some frustrations worked out in the weeks and months ahead as the members regroup.

"We are assessing all of our options, but I have no doubt that we will finish our work in the near future," said Lucas.

Peterson's initial reaction was less optimistic. "This flies in the face of nearly four years of bipartisan work done by the Agriculture Committee. I’ll continue to do everything I can to get a farm bill passed but I have a hard time seeing where we go from here."

And so the waters appear to be muddied as we move forward.

Once the finger pointing stops, it will again be time to rally the troops. This fight isn't over yet.


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