Updated 4:56 p.m. | House GOP leaders took a big gamble Thursday in bringing a farm bill without food stamps to the floor, and it paid off — just barely.
The House passed the bill 216-208, inching across a 213-vote threshold without a single Democrat supporting the measure.
Twelve Republicans voted against the measure: Justin Amash of Michigan, Paul Cook of California, Ron DeSantis of Florida, John J. Duncan Jr. of Tennessee, Trent Franks of Arizona, Phil Gingrey of Georgia, Tim Huelskamp of Kansas, Walter B. Jones of North Carolina, Frank A. LoBiondo of New Jersey, Tom McClintock of California, Matt Salmon of Arizona and Mark Sanford of South Carolina.
Before the vote, House Agriculture ranking member Collin C. Peterson of Minnesota told CQ Roll Call, “I was told in the gym this morning they don’t have the votes and I just heard now they’re a couple votes short.”
Republicans did have the votes, but the bill initially looked like it could suffer yet another surprise defeat, similar to when the first farm bill — which included food stamp provisions that cut more than $20 billion from the program — fell 195-234 a month ago.
Conservative groups Club for Growth and Heritage Action both key voted against the bill, joining other major farm groups in pushing for its demise.
Heritage Action said that while the bill does not contain the projected $743.9 billion in food stamps over the next 10 years, which they disparaged in the last farm bill, “it does nothing to make ‘meaningful reforms’ to America’s farm policy.”
Club for Growth, which also vilified the inclusion of food stamps in the earlier measure and advocated for a split approach, said the bill was “still loaded down with market-distorting giveaways to special interests with no path established to remove the government’s involvement in the agriculture industry.”
Both groups characterized the split as a legislative ruse to get to conference with the Senate.
Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., pushed for separating food stamps from farm provisions as an alternative to moving the bill more to the middle. All but 24 Democrats abandoned the last farm bill on June 20, after Republicans adopted a number of controversial amendments on near-party-line votes.
Cantor’s bid was to appeal to the 62 Republicans who voted against the measure last time and carry passage entirely with Republican votes. The strategy, while risky, was a winner.
By separating food stamps from the farm provisions, leadership allowed Republicans to vote for a farm bill without food stamps, providing them cover from farm groups that desperately support the farm bill and from conservatives who decidedly do not support food stamps.
Cantor released a statement after passage saying he regretted that House Democrats "chose to put politics ahead of farmers," but was "grateful our Republican conference forged ahead and kept their focus on the American people."
On Thursday, Democrats slowed the pace of the floor to a crawl as they made numerous motions requiring recorded votes. They protested that the 608-page bill text was posted late Wednesday night, and that the farm-only bill had come to the floor under a closed rule.
Speaker John A. Boehner said on Thursday it was an “unusual situation and something I would prefer not to do,” but the Ohio Republican said it was the same bill that was on the floor three weeks ago, “with the exception of one or two sentences.”
Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md., said Republicans were rushing consideration of the revised legislation because GOP leaders were "afraid of time, they are afraid of analysis, they are afraid that they won't be able to appeal to some of their people on a political basis."
In one of the more noteworthy moments of floor debate, Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Fla., said Republicans ought to be ashamed of themselves for dropping food stamps from the bill.
Rep. Rob Woodall, R-Ga., motioned to strike down Brown’s words, but eventually went over to Brown on the floor, apologized and withdrew his request.
Off-the-floor, Brown told reporters striking Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program provisions from the bill had major consequences for her constituents.
“No, this is not a game,” she said, tears visibly welling in her eyes.
After Democrats ran out of procedural delays, the final vote was on the farm bill as it finished on the floor, sans the nutrition title but with the addition of a repeal of the 1949 law that requires the passage or extension of a farm bill.
While the result of the House advancing a bill without a nutrition title is likely to put the Senate in a superior negotiating position in conference, House Democrats expressed deep suspicion of the process.
“We were told rather than the $20.5 billion cut to SNAP that was in the House bill that it was possible we could end up with a Senate-passed $4.5 billion cut, or we could end up with no cuts at all,” Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., said on the floor Thursday.
House Agriculture Chairman Frank D. Lucas, R-Okla., laid out that food stamp scenario to Democrats Wednesday night in an emergency Rules meeting. But McGovern, a Rules panel member, didn’t buy that this was a sweet deal for Democrats.
“Does anybody believe that either of those two scenarios is likely or even possible? In this Congress? I have great respect for the Chairman of the Agriculture Committee, Mr. Lucas. But I do not trust this Republican leadership,” McGovern said.
Hoyer said Democrats have "no confidence" that House Republicans would reauthorize SNAP. He said Democrats have "no reason to believe" the 62 conservatives that voted against the farm bill the first time "would have any intention of voting for anything that comes back out of conference."
But Oklahoma Republican Tom Cole predicted that Republican members would support a measure coming back from conference, even if it had SNAP provisions.
He said there was “no way” the House could go into conference with a Democratic Senate and a Democratic president and end up with a Republican product.
“You just hope that folks understand this is the nature of a divided government,” Cole said. “The speaker made it abundantly clear in conference that he understands how important this is for a huge swath of our members.”
Still, Peterson said it was not the speaker who worried him.
"Boehner’s not the problem here; Cantor is the problem. And I’ve been saying that for the year and a half, two years,” Peterson said.
Janae Martin contributed to this report.