UPDATE 2-U.S. House deals shock defeat to Republican farm bill

Thu Jun 20, 2013 6:46pm EDT

* Latest embarrassing defeat for Republican leaders
    * "No" votes include those who wanted less cuts, more cuts
    * Ag committee chairman vows: "we'll finish our work"
    * First time House rejected a farm bill, researchers say


    By Charles Abbott
    WASHINGTON, June 20 (Reuters) - Republican budget-cutters
joined Democratic defenders of food stamps on Thursday to deal a
shocking defeat to the $500 billion farm bill backed by
Republican leaders in the House of Representatives, undermining
hopes of enacting legislation before the current stop-gap law
expires.
    The embarrassing loss for Republican leaders was the first
time in at least 40 years that the House voted down a farm bill.
Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor generally
do not bring legislation to the floor until they are sure they
have enough votes for passage.
    It showed the power of the Tea Party-influenced fiscal
conservatives to disrupt legislation. A Library of Congress
study showed it also may be the first time in history the House
has rejected a farm bill, although in 2012 a farm bill died
without being brought to a vote.
    Agricultural interest groups were stunned.
    "Today's failure leaves the entire food and agriculture
sector in the lurch," the American Soybean Association, a group
which represents growers, said in a statement. 
    Frank Lucas, the disappointed chairman of the House
Agriculture Committee, said "I have no doubt we'll finish our
work in the near future" although he did not suggest how. 
    Without a new law by Sept. 30 or extension of current law,
government farm support rates, which guarantee a minimum price
to farmers for crops or dairy products, will revert to high
levels guaranteed by an underlying 1949 law. The cost of a
gallon of milk in the grocery store could double if dairy
processors are forced to bid up the price of milk to match the
government support level.
    Food stamp cuts are the major issue for the farm bill. The
House bill called for the largest cuts in a generation - $20
billion - that would disqualify 2 million poor Americans. 
Democrats, said it set unduly harsh work rules and gave states
incentives to cut off recipients. Tea Party-backed Republicans
wanted even steeper cuts in food stamps.
    Last week, the Senate passed a bill that proposed a $4
billion cut, one-fifth of the House level, through modest
reforms to the major U.S. anti-hunger program.
    Cantor blamed Democrats for the outcome, saying they were
not interested in consensus. Steny Hoyer, the assistant
Democratic leader, said the bill failed because Republicans
insisted on "egregious" changes to food stamps. 
    All but two dozen Democrats in the House voted against the
bill. The biggest surprise was that about one quarter of the
Republican majority also voted no, in most instances because
they wanted deeper cuts to food stamps and other programs than
proposed. The 234-195 vote undermined hopes of enacting a farm
bill before the current stop-gap law expires in the fall.  
    "I am glad we stood up for children," said Sheila Jackson
Lee, a Texas Democrat, after the vote. Democrats had complained
that cutting food stamps would deprive children from low-income
families of adequate nutrition.
    The estimated cost of the bill "is too big and would have
passed welfare policy on the backs of farmers," said Marlin
Stutzman, Republican of Indiana, who voted against the bill.
    In 2012, the farm bill died in the House without being put
to a vote, in an election-year gridlock that also revolved
mostly around proposed food stamp cuts. Congress began work on
the farm bill three years ago, the longest-running effort ever.
    "The stunning defeat of the House Farm Bill demonstrates how
dysfunctional the House of Representatives has become," said
Wenonah Hauter of the consumer group Food and Water Watch.  
    Aside from food stamps, the Senate and House bills are
similar. Both would expand the taxpayer-subsidized crop
insurance program, streamline conservation programs and end the
$5 billion-a-year "direct payment" subsidy, paid regardless of
need. 
    Republicans such as Steve King of Iowa said the food stamp
cuts embodied reforms to end "the expansion of the dependency
class in America." Democrat Jim McGovern of Massachusetts, who
led the fight against the cuts, said that talk about reform was
a cover for "harsh" cuts imposed without any hearings.
    "It went to far. It hurt too many people," said McGovern.
    Colin Peterson of Minnesota, the Democratic leader on the
Agriculture Committee, said Republican leaders "could not
control the extreme right wing of their party."
    Analyst Mark McMinimy of Guggenheim Partners said prospects
for enacting a farm law this year were in "serious doubt" after 
the "legislative debacle" of Republicans splitting their votes
on a bill backed by their leaders. Congress will have to extend
current law if it cannot revive the farm bill soon, he said.
    Due to the six-year-old agricultural boom, farm incomes are
high and the delay in writing a new law should have little
immediate impact on markets.
    But analysts said the setback could jeopardize crop
insurance coverage for crops to be harvested in 2014. At $9
billion a year, crop insurance is the largest part of the farm
safety net.
    "It's going to provide uncertainty to farmers as far as crop
insurance goes," said Brad Farrar, an agent for Ag Producers
Insurance in Lafayette, Indiana, who said he expects Congress
will extend current law "and move on to the next thing."
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