Fiscal conservatives scored a big victory yesterday afternoon as the House of Representatives rejected the $940 billion Farm Bill by a vote of 195 to 234.
The Farm Bill was easily passed by the Democrat-controlled Senate earlier this month. But the cost of the bill, which is 56% higher than the $604 billion package passed in 2008, was too much for many fiscal conservatives in the House.
This legislation, which is usually passed by Congress every five years, is filled with subsidies for special interests and payments to farmers to not grow crops to keep prices artificially high. It also renews the SNAP food stamp program, consumes nearly 79% of the total cost of the bill.
Efforts were made by many members concerned about the cost of the bill to end farm subsidies to wealthy farmers and to members; however, The Hill notes that those and many other worthy amendments were ruled out-of-order by the House Rules Committee.
For example, Rep. Marlin Stutzman (R-IN) offered an amendment to separate food stamp funding from the rest of the Farm Bill. During testimony before the House Rules Committee, Stutzman explained that Congress has been passing welfare legislation under the guise of farm policy.
“I often heard about the Farm Bill growing up and I know how important it is for farmers in my congressional district in northeast Indiana as well as around the country. I believe we need a Farm Bill but we need that Farm Bill to be responsible,” Stutzman, a fourth-generation farmer, told the committee. “I also believe in helping those who can’t help themselves and that means making sure those who live in poverty in this country are fed.
“But for too long this Congress has combined farm policy and nutrition policy and what we have now is a bill that spends $740 billion on food stamps and $200 billion on farm policy,” he added. “This shouldn’t be the case.”
Unfortunately, Stutzman’s amendment was among those ruled out-of-order by the committee.
Despite the 56% spending increase in the cost of the overall bill, Democrats were unhappy about what they claimed were cuts to the food stamp program. In reality, however, food stamp funding is at a historical high. Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA) offered an amendment to restore these perceived cuts, but it was rejected by a 188 to 234 vote.
Some House Democrats tried to make a point that the cuts were draconian by living off of the $31.50 the average food stamp recipient receives in benefits. Members complained that the money wasn’t enough to live on, a claim that is incredibly and willfully misleading. But looking over their receipts, the members who participated weren’t exactly savvy shoppers and were easily shown up by Donny Ferguson, an aide to Rep. Steve Stockman (R-TX) and conservative bloggers.
Groups that have been pushing for an open debate on the Farm Bill praised the vote and called for House leaders to use it as an opportunity to discuss real reform to the way lawmakers approach agriculture policy.
“Now that the House has defeated the Farm Bill, we should finally discuss real reform,” said Club for Growth President Chris Chocola via a statement. “The time for reform is now. We need to put farm subsidies on a path to elimination and we need to devolve food stamps to the state level where they belong. With $17 trillion in debt, the American taxpayers don’t have time to wait.”
Lori Sanders, a policy analyst at the R Street Institute, offered similar comments, calling the Farm Bill, as presented in the House, a “terrible piece of legislation.”
“The 2013 House Farm Bill was a terrible piece of legislation that expanded federally subsidized crop insurance, created massive new ‘shallow loss’ programs, provided subsidies to big agribusiness, the insurance industry and to environmentally destructive planting, and that failed utterly in making farm programs more transparent or more accountable to taxpayers,” noted Sanders. “We have long said Congress can and should do better than this, and we are pleased to see a majority of the House agrees with us.”
Whether or not House leaders will engage in a debate over how to improve the Farm Bill and make it more amenable to fiscal conservatives remains to be seen. Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) immediately blasted House Democrats for the failure to pass the bill, when, in fact, his leadership on the issue has been sorely lacking.