Dept. of Duh: Of Course the Farm Bill Failed
Policy + Politics

Dept. of Duh: Of Course the Farm Bill Failed

iStockphoto/Anthony Brown

Political commentators are shocked – shocked – that House Republicans blocked the farm bill.

Media headlines relied on term “surprise” to explain the debacle, in which 62 GOP congressmen ditched House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) on Thursday and voted against the five-year, $500 billion measure.


But no one should be stunned or surprised by this. After all, they blocked the farm bill last year too – and nothing has changed the politics inside the Republican caucus in the months that followed.

Mutiny inside the GOP conference has become standard operating procedure, as have the empty boasts by Republican leadership that their bills are guaranteed to pass. Almost every major recent debate on Capitol Hill pointed to this outcome.

This helps to explain why confidence in Congress has sunk to a historic low of 10 percent, according to the Gallup Organization, which said pathetic reading “is tied to Americans’ frustrations with Congress’ inability to get much done.”

The Senate passed its farm bill 66 to 27 two weeks ago. And the 234-195 defeat of the House version only confirms the findings reported by Gallup earlier this month.

In general, the farm bill defectors objected to crop subsidies, in addition to federal support for a food stamp program that they consider to be ripe for abuse and better managed on the state level. Many take their cues from outside groups such as the Club for Growth, which heralded the defeat as a reason to “discuss real reform.”

Judging by the response from House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA), the GOP knew it could not approve the measure without backing from the Democratic minority. It’s a reflection of his weak position inside his caucus, rather than the obstinacy of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) who Cantor tried to blame.

“I'm extremely disappointed that Nancy Pelosi and the Democratic leadership have at the last minute chosen to derail years of bipartisan work on the farm bill and related reforms,” Cantor said.

Only 24 Democrats supported the legislation. And any earlier promises of backing dissipated when Republicans approved as an amendment a work requirement to qualify for receiving food stamps.

The basic story here is a divided House Republican caucus that can only pass on its own highly symbolic bills, rather than legislation that can actually get to President Obama’s desk:

* Boehner tabled the farm bill last year because it contained $16 billion in food stamp cuts, which alienated Democrats, and didn’t have enough support from his own caucus.

* Boehner vowed at the end of last year that the House would approve his “Plan B” solution to the impending fiscal cliff, only to pull his measure with modest tax increases and recited the serenity prayer for his caucus.

* When the House did vote on a fiscal cliff fix, which raised tax rates on the top 1 percent and easily cleared the Senate, 151 Republicans opposed it. The bill passed because of Democratic support.

* In January, 179 House Republicans voted against $50.5 billion in aid for the victims of Superstorm Sandy, because the bill did not include offsetting spending cuts.

* To appease conservative House members, Boehner and the leadership agreed at a party conference in Williamsburg, VA to back a budget that would balance in 10 years, a purely symbolic move that effectively killed any chance of budget negotiations with the Democratic majority Senate.

* Cantor hyped in April his plan to tweak Obamacare and shift $3.6 billion in funding to a program for Americans with pre-existing health conditions. But the congressman pulled it from a floor vote, after it became clear that Republicans did not favor adjusting a program they hope to kill.