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GOP infighting scuttles farm bill

By Evan Halper • May 19, 2018 at 6:00 PM

WASHINGTON — In a major political setback, House Republicans failed Friday to pass an $867 billion farm bill that aimed to impose strict new work requirements for food stamp recipients.

Conservatives refused to support the measure unless House leaders agreed to hold a vote immediately on a separate immigration bill.

The unraveling of the farm measure on the House floor was an embarrassment for GOP leaders, who had expressed confidence that they could pass the traditionally bipartisan farm bill without the support of Democrats. The new restrictions on food stamp aid, which threaten to expel millions of recipients from the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, or SNAP, had driven Democrats to oppose the measure.

The rebellion of the conservative House Freedom Caucus signaled renewed fissures within the GOP as midterm congressional elections approach.

It was also a setback for President Donald Trump, who had crusaded for the farm bill, rallying for it Thursday in a tweet that lauded the measure’s work requirements.

House Democrats erupted in cheers when the measure failed.

“Republicans wrote a cruel, destructive farm bill that abandoned farmers and producers amid plummeting farm prices and the self-inflicted damage of President Trump’s trade brinkmanship,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said in a statement following the vote. “Their heartless bill would have slashed $23 billion in SNAP benefits for children, seniors, students, 1.5 million veterans, 23,000 service members, individuals with disabilities and working families.”

She called for the GOP to return to the tradition of crafting a bipartisan farm bill that Democrats could support.

Members of the Freedom Caucus broke with leadership on the bill over their demands that the House take up their immigration and border security bills. The conservatives said they would not cast votes for the farm bill unless lawmakers were also given an opportunity now to vote on a restrictive immigration measure that is backed by them and Trump.

House leaders demurred, offering instead to call a vote on the immigration bill in June.

The flare-up comes amid growing political discord among Republicans over immigration as November elections approach. Party leadership has been scrambling to keep immigration from dominating discussion in Congress, fearful that it will hurt GOP chances to hold on to power in the House. But restive members of the rank and file are eager to have the debate now, and they are engaged in parliamentary maneuvering that promises to bring the issue front and center in Congress.

As tea party members push their immigration measures, a group of moderate Republicans is quickly gaining support for a separate effort to force a vote on four immigration bills that include new paths to citizenship for so-called Dreamers. They are working with Democrats to advance the proposals to a floor vote over the objections of GOP leaders.

The unravelling of the farm bill Friday makes it more likely that the GOP leadership will be unable to stop an open floor debate on immigration measures.

Republicans in the meantime are vowing they will get a five-year farm bill measure passed by the end of September, when the existing farm bill expires. “We may be down, but we are not out,” said a statement from House Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway, a Texas Republican. “We will deliver a strong, new farm bill on time as the president of the United States has called on us to do.”

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Here’s a reaction roundup from various officials:

U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) renewed his commitment to work with Republicans and Democrats to pass a bipartisan, five-year Farm Bill that works for Ohio farmers, taxpayers, families and Lake Erie.

Brown, a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, has already introduced several bipartisan bills with his Republican partners on the Committee that he hopes will become part of the final Senate package.

Farm Bills typically receive broad bipartisan support in Congress. But in a rare move last week, the House Agriculture Committee passed its bill with only Republican support. The partisan bill failed on the House floor today. The Senate Agriculture Committee expects to consider its bill in the coming weeks and Brown hopes it will be bipartisan.

“Ohio farmers, families and communities depend on the Farm Bill to support agriculture jobs, feed hungry families and help keep Lake Erie clean. They are counting on Congress to put partisan politics aside and work together, and I am committed to working with my partners in the Senate to get the job done,” said Brown.

Brown recently wrapped up a series of roundtable discussions across the state, where he talked with Ohio farmers and stakeholders about their priorities for the 2018 Farm Bill. Brown told farmers he is committed to passing a bipartisan bill that gives them the relief they need to recover from tough economic times and the certainty they deserve. Brown is also a strong supporter of the nutrition title, which provides healthy food to hungry Ohioans across the state.

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North Dakota farmer Kevin Skunes, president of the National Corn Growers Association (NCGA), made the following statement after the House failed to pass the Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 2018 (H.R. 2):

“Passing a farm bill through the House is the first, critical, step in getting a new bill. NCGA urges House Leaders to quickly find a way forward to pass a new farm bill as soon as possible. Depressed commodity prices, the increasing threat of a trade war, and disruptions in the ethanol market are creating uncertainty across rural America. Our farmers need clarity on the prospects of a new farm bill signed into law this year.

“While today’s action is disappointing, we will continue to work with members of Congress and advocate for a strong farm bill that can be signed into law this year.”

Founded in 1957, the National Corn Growers Association represents nearly 40,000 dues-paying corn farmers nationwide and the interests of more than 300,000 growers who contribute through corn checkoff programs in their states. NCGA and its 49 affiliated state organizations work together to create and increase opportunities for corn growers. For more information, visit www.ncga.com.

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Independent Community Bankers of America (ICBA) President and CEO Rebeca Romero Rainey issued the following statement on the failure of the House to pass the Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 2018 (H.R. 2):

“ICBA recognizes there are many differences of opinion regarding the current farm bill legislation and that non-related issues have also played a factor in today’s defeat of H.R. 2. However, ICBA urges Congress to continue working on the bill to keep the process moving forward.

“Due to a fifth straight year of declining net farm income, which has fallen by more than 50 percent since 2013, the agricultural economy is challenging and fragile. A new farm bill to replace the bill expiring Sept. 30 is needed to provide financial stability to rural America and to support the efforts of community banks to continue financing our farmers, ranchers and rural communities.

“ICBA and community bankers call on Congress to continue their work on a new farm bill that includes a strong commodity title and robust funding for the crop insurance program without harmful changes that reduce premium assistance to producers, restrict participation or harm private-sector delivery. We also continue urging enhancement of USDA guaranteed farm loan and rural development programs and oppose expansion of the Farm Credit System, a government-sponsored enterprise with enormous tax and funding advantages over community banks.

“ICBA and the nation’s community bankers will work with Congress to advance these priorities as the debate continues.”

The Independent Community Bankers of America, the nation’s voice for nearly 5,700 community banks of all sizes and charter types, is dedicated exclusively to representing the interests of the community banking industry and its membership through effective advocacy, best-in-class education and high-quality products and services. For more information, visit ICBA’s website at www.icba.org.

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The American Soybean Association (ASA) expressed deep disappointment with the U.S. House of Representatives failure today to pass H.R. 2, the Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 2018. ASA calls on the U.S. House of Representatives to continue to work to seek passage of a Farm Bill this year to provide certainty and stability for growers.

“Plain and simple: the farm bill matters," said ASA President and Iowa soybean grower John Heisdorffer. "U.S. soybean growers and everyone involved in agriculture depend on this vital piece of legislation. This bill provides a farm safety net, improves conservation, places value on exports and feeds our nation.”

ASA was pleased with the outcome of several amendments, including strong votes to defeat amendments that would have eliminated vital farm programs.

“Soybean growers are facing a down farm economy and significant export uncertainty, and are relying on a strong farm bill," Heisdorffer said. "The House failure to pass a farm bill only adds to the uncertainty across rural America.”

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Earlier (Friday), the House Farm Bill (H.R. 2) failed in the House of Representatives. “This bill was a non-starter from its beginnings,” said Monica Mills, Executive Director of Food Policy Action. “It was written behind closed doors with no bipartisan consultation or input. That is not the way to write a bill that affects every American and the food we eat at every meal every single day.”

Mills added: “Today, we dodged a disastrous farm bill that would have been harmful for millions of Americans. It would have taken food out of the mouths of hungry children in order to pour billions of taxpayer dollars into the already brimming bank accounts of wealthy, big-Ag farm operations. It would have taken critical funds away from farmers markets. It would have cut vital conservation programs. We need a farm bill that balances the needs of all Americans.”

Food Policy Action will include this vote in its seventh annual Food Policy Action Scorecard available in October, 2018.

Food Policy Action Education Fund is a 501(c)(3) organization that is a separate sister organization of Food Policy Action. The mission of FPA-EF is to provide a platform for public education and engagement on the impacts of federal policy on the food system.

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(Friday), the U.S. House of Representatives failed to implement desperately-needed welfare reform with the unsuccessful passage of the 2018 House Farm Bill. The Foundation for Government Accountability (FGA) encourages lawmakers to remain committed to delivering real reform to millions of able-bodied Americans who are dependent on food stamps.

The commonsense reforms included in H.R. 2, Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 2018 would have expanded work requirements to more able-bodied adults and moved millions of Americans from welfare to work. Despite a booming economy and a record number of open jobs, the number of able-bodied adults on food stamps remains near record-high levels, having nearly tripled since 2000.

“With over six million open jobs across the country and a near-record low unemployment rate, there is no better time to move millions of able-bodied Americans off welfare and back to work,” said FGA President and CEO Tarren Bragdon. “Lawmakers should continue to advocate for expanded work requirements and commonsense reforms that will give millions of Americans the opportunity to lift themselves out of dependency.”

The Foundation for Government Accountability (FGA) is a non–profit, multi–state think tank that specializes in health care, welfare, and work reform. To learn more, visit TheFGA.org.


(Los Angeles Times staff writer Sarah D. Wire and the Norwalk Reflector staff contributed to this report.)


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