NICK EICHER, HOST: Coming up next on The World and Everything in It: the farm bill fallout.
MARY REICHARD, HOST: It’s springtime and that means planting time. Farmers face uncertainty from all sorts of things: weather, disease, trade barriers among them. Crop prices have fallen so much that farmers have lost almost half their net income over the last 5 years.
EICHER: And what happens to farmers happens to each of us, because we all have to eat. That’s why the federal government tries to help manage the inherent risk in farming. Legislation designed to help farmers hang on through tough times comes in the form of federal crop insurance—but that’s not all. Many other provisions are bundled to that legislation, known as the farm bill.
REICHARD: It’s often contentious, and this year is no different. WORLD reporter Laura Finch has been following the story and is here to talk about it. Laura, the farm bill made it through committee but was surprisingly voted down on the House floor. What happened?
LAURA FINCH, REPORTER: Unlike the federal budget, the farm bill is actually a five-year bill. Once it’s passed, it doesn’t have to be revisited for five years. This version makes some changes to SNAP, or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. It’s better known as food stamps, and it’s always part of the farm bill. But any time you touch food stamps, it’s a pretty volatile issue. This time, Republicans chose to add work requirements for adults without young children at home. Democrats were not crazy about this. As one example, a midwest Democrat, Rep. Marcia Fudge from Ohio, called it a total failure for cutting $20 billion from SNAP. She said it would kick children out of school breakfast and lunch programs. Here she is in the Democratic weekly radio address last month:
FUDGE: The Republicans call this self-selection. I call it engineered failure. The GOP hope that with enough red tape, our hungry neighbors will simply give up and go away.
So almost by default, this was not really going to be a bipartisan bill.
Well, what’s the lay of the land for passage of this farm bill then?
FINCH: Republicans have 235 seats in the House as it is, and it takes 218 to pass a bill. So they definitely could have passed it on their own, but without much margin for error. But what happened here was, the vote for this bill happened to coincide with a completely different movement going on in the House, and that had to do with immigration. Not a single immigration bill has made it through the Judiciary Committee this session and onto the floor for a vote. A group of moderate Republicans got so frustrated that they started what’s called a discharge petition.
What exactly is a discharge petition?
FINCH: This is basically a petition that says, we want to see a floor vote on XYZ issue. If you can get 218 people to agree with you, then it moves forward. Specifically, this one is about fixing the DACA program, otherwise known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. And as of today, they’re almost there. Some very conservative Republicans, from a group called the Freedom Caucus, saw that and said no way. They knew there was a chance that a bill they disliked might actually pass that way, using bipartisan support. So they sort of staged a coup. They withdrew their support from the farm bill, this totally unrelated piece of legislation, until they could get a vote on an immigration bill of their own choosing.
So what is the Freedom Caucus hoping to get, exactly?
FINCH: That’s the interesting thing… they say they want a vote on a bill by House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte, from Virginia. But Goodlatte hasn’t even called a hearing on his own bill yet. Speaker Ryan promised to whip votes for it, or essentially drum up support, and even that went nowhere. It was clear Goodlatte’s bill was a little too conservative. Recently, he’s agreed to make some changes to it.
So what’s next?
FINCH: I spoke with someone on the Agriculture Committee, Representative Vicky Hartzler from Missouri. She’s the only female Republican member. I asked her what it was like to watch this bill go down so dramatically. In the end it only got 213 votes, and remember, there are 235 Republicans in the House, so quite a few Republicans voted against this pretty crucial, Republican bill. Rep. Hartzler sounded surprisingly upbeat:
HARTZLER: Well, it was disappointing to see a bill that is so important to millions and millions of Americans, be taken hostage for an unrelated item. But I know that this is probably just temporary, and I know that many of the individuals who voted ‘no’ for other reasons, do support the underlying bill, and will support it in the future. So I believe we will have an opportunity to vote on it, and ultimately pass it. Which will be a good thing.
She makes it sound like the House could vote on this same version of the bill again. Is that right?
FINCH: Yes, they can, and they plan to. Right now June 22nd is the target date, and Speaker Ryan has promised a vote on immigration a little earlier in that week. Rep. Hartzler told me she expects nothing to change about it. In the meantime, with the House returning to Washington today, we’ll be keeping a close eye on that DACA discharge petition, which is really the talk of the town right now.
Close eye indeed. Laura Finch is a WORLD reporter in the Chicago area. Thanks so much for this report, Laura.
Laura, thanks so much for this report.
FINCH: You’re welcome, Mary.