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Farm bill fails in House

Republicans who want a smaller federal budget and Democrats who oppose proposed food stamp cuts joined Thursday to defeat a five-year farm bill.

Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., said there may not be a second chance to write a farm bill this year, but others said it could return as soon as next week.

Lucas' bill called for the largest cuts in food stamps in a generation and has the biggest farm program reforms since 1996.

The 234-195 surprise defeat came after a speeded-up debate, designed by supporters in part to avoid a potential loss of votes when congressmen headed home this weekend.

The Hill, a Washington news organization, reported that Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said the bill could return to the House floor next week.

"We can correct it if (Democrats) are not going to help us," he said.

Republicans had expected Democrats to deliver more votes, but The Hill reported that Democratic leadership and White House threats to veto the bill cut that number.

Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., blamed Republican leaders for the defeat.

"The farm bill failed to pass the House today because the House Republicans could not control the extreme right wing of their party," said Peterson, the top Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee. "From Day 1 I cautioned my colleagues that to pass a farm bill we would have to work together. Instead, the House adopted a partisan amendment process, playing political games with extreme policies that have no chance of becoming law."

Peterson said he will continue to work to pass a farm bill, but "I have a hard time seeing where we go from here."

Two amendments that passed contributed to the defeat. One was a controversial dairy program change; the other one would allow states to place more requirements on food stamp recipients.

A majority of Republicans supported the bill. But 62 in the GOP joined 172 Democrats in voting against the measure.

Much of the Democratic opposition came because the bill would have cut $20 billion from the food stamp program over the next decade.

Senators last week easily passed their version of the bill. It could come back in the House before current farm policy expires this fall, but the path to reconsider it was not clear Thursday.

Lucas continued work on a farm bill that Peterson began four years ago when Democrats ran the House and the Detroit Lakes, Minn., man was agriculture chairman. Lucas worked with Peterson to craft a bill they thought could win enough votes from both parties to pass.

Democrats strongly oppose food stamp cuts. But many Republicans said the $20 billion the bill would chop was not enough.

Peterson could attract just 24 of his party's votes after amendment after amendment to ease food stamp cuts failed. Senators cut just $2 billion from food stamps in their bill.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.