The House launched into debate of more than 100 amendments to the farm bill Wednesday, but there were signs that final passage might be delayed until next week.
A Republican leadership aide signaled that there may not be enough time to finish the 103 amendments to the bill (HR 1947) approved by the House Rules Committee, and a Democratic aide said Republicans needed more time to round up votes. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., has resisted allowing votes to continue after 7 p.m. Wednesday, and the House is scheduled to end its workweek at 3 p.m. on Thursday, a Republican aide said.
Conservative groups pressed Republicans to oppose the farm bill, citing its cost. Stephen Ellis, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, said in an email to the group’s members that not enough amendments were being allowed to the $939 billion legislation. “Instead of jamming this bill through the floor with inadequate debate and attempts at reform, House leadership needs to start over and create a process that allows for more debate and more reform,” Ellis said.
Similarly, the Club for Growth said that the vote on final passage and on some amendments will be included on its congressional scorecard.
The House voted 239-177 to approve the rule that allows votes on the 103 amendments. Under the rule, 10 minutes of debate would be allowed for each and up to 20 minutes could be allowed for some of the key ones. House Rules approved the final list of amendments shortly before midnight Tuesday following a five-hour markup that was split by five hours of closed-door negotiations.
One of the first floor fights came over the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, a nutrition safety net for the poor that would shrink under the farm bill. SNAP, which provides monthly benefits to more than 46 million Americans a year, would be cut by $20.5 billion over 10 years and eligibility standards tightened.
Democrats protested. Massachusetts Rep. Jim McGovern, a House Agriculture Committee member, urged support for his amendment to replace the SNAP cuts with reductions to yearly direct payments made to farmers and landowners based on past production on crop land and other farm aid programs. “We’re a better country than this,” McGovern argued.
Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., another vocal opponent, said that now is not the time to reduce spending for a program designed to help people in a time of weak economies and personal need.
However, Republicans said the goal was to curb the cost of a program that accounts for more than half of all spending in the bill and to keep it focused on the neediest in the country.
“We simply close the loopholes that allow states to sign people up into programs without the proper qualifications,” said Ted Yoho, R-Fla.
Rules Chairman Pete Sessions said Democratic accusations that Republicans were disregarding low-income people were false.
“At no time during this process have we vilified any poor people,” Sessions said. “We’re here to help them.”
Agriculture leaders scored a victory in the committee by heading off amendments targeting crop insurance that may have had a good chance of passage. Also excluded were amendments on national cage standards for laying hens as well as proposals targeting cotton growers.
However, the list of approved amendments does include a proposal by Bob Gibbs, R-Ohio, to slash the prices in the bill’s Price Loss Coverage program, the centerpiece of the commodity title. And a few amendments on crop insurance were allowed.
But the list of approved amendments doesn’t include a vote on a reduction in premium subsidies for farmers with adjusted gross incomes exceeding $750,000 a year. A similar amendment made it into the Senate bill (S 954) and probably stood a good chance of being adopted in the House as well.
Instead, the rule allows for a vote on a single catchall amendment that includes a series of restrictions that when taken together might be difficult for House members to accept. That amendment, whose chief sponsor is Ron Kind, D-Wis., would restrict premium subsidies to farmers with adjusted gross incomes under $250,000; cap premium subsidies at $50,000 a year; limit the industry’s administrative and operating expense reimbursement at $900 million; and cap the insurance companies’ rate of return at 12 percent. If voted on separately, several of those issues might have drawn substantial support in the House.
Ellyn Ferguson contributed to this report.