By Don Davis
A sharply divided U.S. House planned to vote on a farm bill this afternoon, with the White House threatening to veto it.
Democrat after Democrat rose to object to a decision by Republicans who control the House to dump a provision funding food stamps and other nutrition programs for the poor.
Republicans said the nutrition portion of the bill still could arise in the House and if a farm bill passes the topic would be up to House and Senate negotiators to decide.
The House voted 223-195 at mid-day to back a Rules Committee decision to debate only farm program funding and not allow amendments that could put food stamp funding back into the bill that failed on June 20.
U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, a western Minnesotan and top Democrat on the Agriculture Committee, was not happy with the developments and spoke against the bill.
“I still believe splitting the farm bill is a mistake in the long run,” Peterson said. “They are ignoring the advice of most of the groups affected by the bill and I see no clear path to getting a bill passed by the House and Senate and signed by the president.”
The nutrition and farm programs have been in one bill since 1977 in an effort to get support from both urban and rural lawmakers.
“It violates a decades-old principle that united urban and rural interests together feeding hungry people,” Rep. Rick Nolan, D-Minn., said.
Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., said he also strongly opposes the move “because it increases hunger in America.”
Agriculture Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., pledged to keep working on funding food stamps.
“The committee will work hard to achieve a consensus on a nutrition bill,” Lucas said, although he admitted that whatever his committee draws up probably will not satisfy the extremes from both political parties.
“Part of the problem with the bill two weeks ago is we saved money everywhere…” Lucas said. “Sometimes you have to have reform, sometimes you have to do things differently.”
Debate today followed multiple news reports Wednesday indicating that Republicans did not have enough votes to pass the farm bill.
The combined farm-nutrition bill failed on June 20 after Republicans who control the House tacked on an amendment that Democrats claimed would make it more difficult for some Americans to get food stamps. Several Democrats voted against the bill last month because of the amendment, which defeated it.
Peterson said that if the amendment were removed, the Democrats would return to supporting the bill.
However, the Rules Committee’s decision to remove nutrition programs could cost nearly all Democratic votes.
Debate on the bill could begin at mid-day today.
Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions, R-Texas, said if the farm bill passes, it would be negotiated with the Senate, which passed the farm bill with nutrition programs. He said that means food stamp funded still could pass.
The House nutrition provision, which was dropped, would cut $20 billion from food stamps in the next 10 years. The Senate-passed measure would cut $4 billion.
President Barack Obama wants food stamp provisions added back into the bill and also has problems with the farm programs.
In a statement, the White House said it would veto the 608-page farm subsidy bill because it “does not contain sufficient commodity and crop insurance reforms” and it omitted food stamps, officially called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
“This bill … fails to reauthorize nutrition programs, which benefit millions of Americans – in rural, suburban and urban areas alike,” said the White House. “The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program is a cornerstone of our nation’s food assistance safety net, and should not be left behind as the rest of the Farm Bill advances.”
The farm subsidy bill would cut spending by $14 billion over 10 years, chiefly by ending the $5 billion a year “direct payment” subsidy. It would expand the taxpayer-subsidized crop insurance program by 10 percent, or $9 billion, over 10 years, including a provision that would shield crop revenue from drops of more than 11 percent of average.
Reuters news service contributed to this story.