House passes stripped down farm bill, without food stamps

In an effort to revive the House farm bill that failed last month, the House voted in favor of a pared-down version of the bill that does not include food-stamp funding Thursday.

In a narrow 216-208 vote, the House passed the farm-focused legislation.

Traditionally, farm and nutrition assistance programs have been combined into one massive farm bill. With the House’s inability to pass one bill in June — in large part due to disagreements over cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamps — House Republicans split the legislation Wednesday evening.

The portion of the legislation stripped from the farm bill the House passed Thursday would have cut the $80 billion a year from the food stamp program — which has quadrupled in cost since 2001 and doubled in cost since Obama took office — by 3 percent.

The House is expected to vote on food stamps at a future date. House Agriculture Chair Frank Lucas has said he hopes that the House brings the second bill to the floor quickly.

Speaking on the House floor in advance of the final vote Thursday Lucas, who initially had balked at the idea of splitting the legislation, said he believed the new staggered approach to passage is “the most appropriate way to pass” the farm bill.

House Democrats excoriated the split in debate on the floor before the vote, charging that abandoning the nutrition assistance elements in the farm bill would hurt children, the elderly and low-income Americans.

Florida Democratic Rep. Corrine Brown stressed, “Shame on the Republicans, shame on the House of Representatives!”

Last month’s defeat of the farm bill was seen as a setback for House Speaker John Boehner and GOP leadership. Thursday before the vote Boehner called the bill split an “unusual situation.”

“I’m pleased the House took a positive first step forward in providing some much-need reforms to our farm programs today,” Boehner said in a statement after the bill passed. “Reforming our food stamp programs is also essential.  Chairman Lucas should be commended for his work on this bill, and I look forward to continuing to work with him and our members as we move this process forward.”

Indiana Republican Rep. Marlin Stutzman, who pushed to split the bill prior to the first farm bill vote, cheered the final passage.

“Transparent government won an important victory today. Conservatives seized an opportunity to split the Farm Bill, a landmark reform that breaks the unholy alliance between food stamps and agriculture policy,” he said. “For the first time since the 1970’s taxpayers will have an honest look at how Washington spends their money on agriculture and food stamp policy.”

The White House threatened to veto the House legislation Wednesday evening if it were to reach the president’s desk.

“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 administration issued in a statement of policy.

The Senate passed their comprehensive version of the farm bill last month.

The Huffington Post reports that the farm-only bill could be combined with the comprehensive Senate farm bill, quoting Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, who appeared on Bloomberg TV Wednesday.

“We will deal with whatever they send to us,” the Michigan Democrat said. “I think it’s a serious mistake to begin to unravel what has been the coalition of urban and rural Americans to come together on food security and supporting our farmers and ranchers. But whatever they send us, we will deal with that, and we will do it in a bipartisan basis as we have done in the Senate and send them something responsible back.”

The Senate bill cuts SNAP by about $400 million annually, or half a percent.

Giuseppe Macri contributed to this report. 

Follow Caroline on Twitter