The House of Representatives Thursday in a narrow vote of 217-210 passed a bill cutting the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program by nearly $40 billion over the next 10 years.
The bill serves as the second part of farm and nutrition policy that will make up the House's farm bill. Earlier this year, Congress chose to split the legislation into two parts, one for farm policies and another for nutrition policies. The "farm-only" portion passed with a vote of 216-208 in July.
There was significant attention on the nutrition portion of the bill due to its proposed steep cuts. Democrats chastised the bill for implementing new requirements for SNAP recipients and thus eliminating an estimated 4 million people from the program, while many Republicans supported the bill as a vehicle to get to conference on a five-year farm bill.
In remarks on the House floor prior to vote, House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., pleaded with members to pass the bill, reminding them that if Congress did not act, there would be the House would have "no reforms" for food stamps to present in conference.
Lucas' frustration with the process, which has taken several years to complete, was apparent in his efforts to persuade Congress members to approve the bill.
"It should not be this hard to pass a bill to make sure that the consumers in this country and around the world have enough to eat, but everything seems to be hard these days," he said.
The bill, which conjured several negative reactions from Democratic lawmakers, as expected – and even some Republicans – will now join the farm-only portion and the Senate's full farm bill, passed in June.
Though lawmakers have not yet suggested a timeline for conference, Lucas noted in a statement following passage that he remains committed to passing a five-year farm bill this year.
"I look forward to continuing conversations with my House and Senate colleagues as we move toward a farm bill conference," he said.
Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., filed similar comments regarding the completion of a five-year bill, though her review of the nutrition bill's provisions were less than glowing.
"We have never before seen this kind of partisanship injected into a Farm Bill," Stabenow said. "The bill will never pass the Senate, and will never be signed by the President."
However, Stabenow said the good news is that the vote will allow lawmakers to eventually reach the finish line in farm bill negotiations.
"If House Republican leaders drop the divisive issues, appoint conferees and work with us in a bipartisan way, we can finalize a farm bill," she said. "It's time to get a comprehensive farm bill done to give farmers and ranchers the certainty they need to continue growing the economy."
Farm groups generally supportive
Farm groups releasing statements on the bill's passage generally noted that while it may not be the cleanest way to achieve five-year farm policy, it does allow forward movement.
“We are pleased that the House is one step closer towards passage of the farm bill and we encourage the House to appoint conferees to work out the differences between the House and Senate bills," National Cattlemen's Beef Association President Scott George said. George added that the bill is a "top priority" to providing farmers' and ranchers' regulatory certainty in the coming years.
American Soybean Association President Danny Murphy reiterated George's concerns, highlighting the pressing deadline of Sept. 30, when the current farm bill expires.
"This process has gone on for more than three years now, and we still have no long-term legislation in place. That is entirely too long," Murphy said. "We expect the House to appoint its conferees as soon as possible, and we call on both chambers to work across party lines to craft a bill that addresses the needs of both farmers and consumers."
National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson indicated his displeasure with the decision, but also added that the move will allow the House to appoint conferees and move forward with a full farm bill.