NEWS: The House votes down its version of the farm bill



What's going on with the farm bill? Breaking news, updates, and context from the New Food Economy's editors.

May 18, 2018: House farm bill DOA

The U.S. House of Representatives voted down its version of the farm bill around noon EST on Friday, 198 – 213. Thirty Republicans voted against the bill, while 198 voted for it; 183 Democrats voted against, with zero “yea” votes coming from their side of the aisle.

As of late Thursday, it wasn’t clear whether this version of the bill would even get a vote today. Some commentators suggested that several of the bill’s more controversial elements (described below) were more about politics than policy, and didn’t have a realistic shot at becoming law anyway.

“Work requirements, cuts, etc., ain’t gonna make it past the Senate which needs 60 votes,” tweeted The New York Times‘s Glenn Thrush on Thursday. “It’s an exercise is midterm posturing. The real bill is being quietly drafted by Roberts/Stabenow.” Thrush was referring to Kansas Republican Senator Pat Roberts and Democrat from Michigan Debbie Stabenow, the chair and ranking member of the Senate Agricultural Committee, who are closing in on their chamber’s version of the bill.

All eyes, then, will now turn to the Senate.

The final tally of the House version of the farm bill, as shown on C-SPAN, May 18, 2018

May 17, 2018: It’s all politics—House bill draws protest from both sides of the aisle

Update 6:00 p.m., EST: The controversial sugar amendment mentioned in this story failed by a wide margin. 

The U.S. House of Representatives had been scheduled to vote on its version of the farm bill on Friday of this week. But by late in the day on Thursday, it appeared the vote would be delayed.

One source of contention: The House Freedom Caucus—a group of around 40 of the most conservative Republican and Libertarian congresspeople—refused to support the bill, Politico reports, without a promise to bring two immigration bills to the House floor. Absent the Freedom Caucus votes the bill would be dead on arrival, but the Caucus’ foot-dragging has been far from the only issue. The bill hung by a thread all day, thanks to vigorous objections from both sides of the aisle.

As we’ve reported before, the House version of the farm bill has given pretty much everyone something to be angry about. Its provision for SNAP work requirements lost the entire Democratic party before the bill was even released to the public, and the Freedom Caucus has balked at the bill’s preservation of farm subsidies. On Wednesday evening, a late-stage plot twist threw another wrench in the process: North Carolina’s Republican Representative Virginia Foxx told Politico she had enough votes to pass an amendment that would change the way sugar is subsidized. House Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway, a Republican from Texas, called the amendment a “poison pill” that would sink the whole effort. Fun!

For now, the hodgepodge bill no longer seems to be scheduled for a Friday vote in the House. And the actual passage of a final bill seems to be a long way off. We haven’t even seen the Senate’s version of the bill. Once passed, it will need to be reconciled with the House’s version in conference—likely no small effort, given the amount of controversy already generated.

As the debates continued, legislators took the opportunity to add plenty of color commentary via Twitter on Thursday. “….NOT very fiscally conservative Must do better in Senate farm bill,” wrote Iowa Republican Senator Chuck Grassley. “We should not be shaming people who are in a rough patch in their lives out of accepting the food they need to get by and get back on their feet,” wrote Keith Ellison, a Democratic representative from Minnesota.

May 10, 2018: An (empty?) Trump threat, Republicans look for House votes, and murmurs from the data privacy crowd.

This week, the farm bill got a heck of a lot more Trumpian. To be fair, Donald-ification of the legislative process started earlier, at the end of April when House Ag Committee Chair Mike Conaway (R-KY) reportedly pushed a loyalty pledge that would require legislators to promise to vote in favor of the final bill before they’re allowed to introduce any new amendments. Then, on Wednesday, the plot thickened when the Wall Street Journal reported President Trump would threaten to veto the bill if it didn’t include enhanced work requirements for people using foodstamps. As of press time, the threat remained idle.

But if Trump’s veto threat is legit, it might have the (presumably desired) effect of strong-arming the Senate into adding work requirement provisions to its own version of the farm bill, which hasn’t been released yet. On the other hand, the added pressure could be the kiss of death for a plan that may already be on life support: Politico reported Thursday morning that Conaway might not have enough votes to pass the House version because of a reluctant Freedom Caucus and zero support from the Democrats.

The last president to veto a farm bill was George W. Bush in 2008. He objected to big federal payments for commodity support, arguing that the policy “continues subsidies for the wealthy.” And back in the 1920s, President Calvin Coolidge vetoed a major piece of farming legislation. In his speech explaining the veto against the McNary-Haugen Farm Relief Bill (a popular measure that would’ve allowed farmers to sell their surpluses to the government—something that is a part of the modern subsidy system), Coolidge said “These provisions would disappoint the farmer by naively implying that the law of supply and demand can thus be legis­latively distorted in his favor. Economic history is filled with the evidences of the ghastly futility of such attempts.” Would he were alive today….

Elsewhere in farm bill chatter, FERN reports the much-maligned Harvest Box is definitely not gonna happen, and outlets outside the ag space are starting to take issue with the bill’s proposal to create a nationwide database of SNAP users. The National Accuracy Clearinghouse would essentially aggregate the social security numbers and addresses of every poor person in the United States. What could go wrong?

The Counter Stories by our editors.