WASHINGTON — The House on Thursday finally approved a new farm bill, but only after ditching the part that dealt with food stamps.
All Republican members from Nebraska and Iowa supported the measure, but they weren't exactly doling out high-fives afterward.
As Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb., walked off the House floor after the 216-208 vote, he said it wasn't the legislation he would have preferred, but at least it moved the process forward.
He noted that the bill does include his proposal to cap farm payments, a move that was also included in the Senate-approved version.
“That is an important reform element on the farm side, so it helps me get through the angst of this farm bill fiasco process,” he said.
The decision to strip food stamps from the legislation came after last month's stunning defeat for the farm bill on the House floor.
Many placed the blame for that debacle on a last-minute amendment that would have allowed states to put work requirements on food stamps.
Conservative Republicans have been looking to make deeper and deeper cuts to the nutrition program, which has doubled in cost in recent years in large part due to the recession.
Nutrition assistance now represents $80 billion a year, or about 80 percent of the farm bill.
Democrats are looking to keep any cuts to the program modest.
They slammed the legislation approved Thursday, saying it would take food from the nation's needy.
Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, voted for the bill but said he wished House leaders had sought to keep the original farm bill together in order to force changes to the food stamp program.
Taking this route simply allows Democrats to avoid making any such changes, he said.
“Democrats have long been for expanding the dependency class in America,” King said.
Still, Democrats said leaving food stamps out of the farm bill will make the program more vulnerable to cuts in the future.
That concern was shared by advocates for food stamps, also known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP.
“While the farm bill is clearly very important for Nebraska, SNAP is a vital support for thousands of Nebraskans who struggle with food insecurity,” Nebraska Appleseed Executive Director Rebecca Gould said in a statement.
“When Congress returns its attention to SNAP, they must ensure its continued vitality and avoid cuts that would harm our state. We call upon them to protect the Nebraska families that are helped by this program.”
The bill spends about $20 billion a year on federally subsidized crop insurance, conservation programs and other federal support for farmers and ranchers.
The Senate already approved its own version of the farm bill that includes food stamps. It remains unclear how the two could be reconciled to actually send something to the president's desk.
Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Okla., chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, said he would begin work on a separate food stamp bill but could make no guarantees how that would turn out.
Reps. Adrian Smith and Lee Terry, both Nebraska Republicans, voted in favor of the legislation Thursday. So did Rep. Tom Latham, R-Iowa.
Rep. Bruce Braley, D-Iowa, who is running for Iowa's open Senate seat, voted against it.
He noted that more than 530 farm groups opposed the move because they said it undermines the traditional urban-rural coalition that lies at the heart of farm bills.
“This is a fake farm bill,” Braley said. “It's nothing less than a wolf in sheep's clothing that would dismantle the farm bill itself.”