Farm Bill Failure Underscores a Divided GOP

Farm Bill Failure Underscores a Divided GOP

Jim Young

The House on Friday failed to pass an $867 billion farm bill after conservatives withheld their support as part of a simmering internal fight over immigration. The vote was 198-213, with 30 Republicans joining 183 Democrats in voting against the bill. Here’s what you need to know:

Food Stamps Are Also Part of the Farm Bill: “The program was added in the 1970s as a way to persuade urban lawmakers to vote for an expensive safety net for farmers,” NPR explains. “And for decades, it worked.” This time, though, Democrats opposed the farm bill because it included changes to the food stamps program, including new work requirements for beneficiaries. The bill would have required adults to spend 20 hours a week either working or participating in job training in order to receive benefits. People who failed to meet the requirements could be locked out of the program for up to three years.

Conservatives Also Saw This as a Chance to Cut Spending: Conservatives objected to the amount of spending on food stamps and some groups on the right argued that the work requirements didn’t go far enough. Conservatives also criticized other provisions in the sweeping bill, noting that much of the farm bill has nothing to do with farms. Last year, 40 million people used food stamps, formally known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. The federal government spent about $70 billion on food stamps and other food assistance programs.

President Trump Supported the Bill: He had tweeted his support for the farm bill on Thursday, and the White House on Friday said it was disappointed in the result of the vote and “hopes the House can resolve any remaining issues in order to achieve strong work requirements and support our nation's agricultural community," according to NPR.

The Future of the Bill Is Unclear: The current farm bill expires September 30, so there’s still some time for another vote. “Republican leaders are discussing ways to bring it up again,” NPR reports. “A revote could hinge on whether GOP leaders agree to a vote on a controversial immigration bill that many Republican moderates oppose. Those members, many running for re-election in competitive districts, are pressing, instead, for a vote on a measure that gives a path to citizenship for children of undocumented workers.” The Senate is working on a different version of the farm bill, since the House bill would stand no chance of garnering the bipartisan support needed to pass there.

Republican Leaders Still Have Difficulty Wrangling Their Members: Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) had told reporters before the vote that the bill would pass, CNN reported. Republican leaders had promised to hold votes on immigration bills, including a hard-line version conservatives favor, in June. But that wasn’t enough to placate conservatives in the House Freedom Caucus, who wanted an immediate immigration vote. “This is your periodic reminder that the House is ungovernable for Republicans without placating the Freedom Caucus, which gets its way because it's willing to do stuff like this,” Bloomberg’s Sahil Kapur tweeted. “Plan B is to work with Democrats, which is even more hazardous for leadership.” House Speaker Paul Ryan has struggled to overcome those internal divisions just as John Boehner did — and it’s sure to be a challenge for McCarthy or any other Republican who hopes to succeed Ryan.