Farm Bill Tom Foolery

PlowThe House of Representatives of the United States of America was supposed to pass a Farm Bill (HR 1947) on June 20, 2013 but that didn’t happen, and the actions of Nevada Representatives Heck and Amodei weren’t helpful.

Head counters, AKA the Whips, were fairly certain there would be about 40 votes from the Democratic side of the aisle for passage.  Let’s review the basic numbers.  There are 234 Republican Representatives and there are 201 Democrats.  There are no Independents.  Given these numbers, the House Republicans could theoretically pass any bill they want without Democratic assistance.  Since they’ve voted some 37 times to repeal the Affordable Care Act and Patients’ Bill of Rights it’s reasonable to assume there is some cohesion in the majority.

So, why did the Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act (HR 1947) go down on roll call vote 286 with a 195-234 count?

Representative Mark Amodei (R-NV2) was among the 195 voting in favor of the bill. Representatives Heck (R-NV3), Horsford (D-NV4), and Titus (D-NV1) were counted among the 234 opposed.  Why did those 40 Democratic votes vanish?

There wasn’t much Democratic support for the House version of the Farm Bill to begin with, estimates of 70 Democratic votes were probably too optimistic in the first place, and if Rep. Collin Peterson (R-MN7) is to be believed the straws that broke the old camel’s back were amendments brought to the floor which decimated the SNAP (food stamp) programs.

“And then, you know, we had made a deal on food stamps where I agreed to more cuts than we had considered last year, but I thought we had a deal that there weren’t going to be any other…that we were going to stand together to oppose any other changes in the food stamp area, but that’s not what happened. And three amendments got approved, that each one of them peeled off more support, so we got down to 24 votes, and that wasn’t enough.”  [Peterson, pdf]

The Southerland Amendment was the last straw — the “deal was off” as far as the few remaining House Democratic supporters were concerned.  This amendment was passed on a 227-198 margin [vote 284] with both Amodei and Heck voting in favor of the deal killing amendment.  House Amendment 231 (Southerland) proposed “An amendment numbered 102 printed in Part B of House Report 113-117 to apply federal welfare work requirements to the food stamp program, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, at state option.”

The federal welfare work rules are: “The Federal government provides assistance through TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families). TANF is a grant given to each state to run their own welfare program. To help overcome the former problem of unemployment due to reliance on the welfare system, the TANF grant requires that all recipients of welfare aid must find work within two years of receiving aid, including single parents who are required to work at least 30 hours per week opposed to 35 or 55 required by two parent families. Failure to comply with work requirements could result in loss of benefits.”  [WI.org]  Rep. Eric Cantor was only too pleased to see these requirements added to the qualifications for the SNAP program. [Cantor] Cantor acknowledged the need to assist citizens in dire need but added, “our overriding goal should be to help our citizens with the education and skills they need to get back on their feet so that they can provide for themselves and their families.”

The last point goes absolutely nowhere toward explaining why the House hasn’t taken up legislation to prevent student loan interest rates from doubling from 3.4% to 6.8% next Monday — but, that’s another story.  Or, why in the midst of innumerable anti-choice bills there hasn’t been time for a JOBS Bill… but that’s yet another story.

The GOP axe job on the SNAP program probably wasn’t going to secure the total support of Representatives Horsford and Titus, and Rep. Titus’s interest may indeed have declined precipitously when her amendment, H. Amdt. 192, “to continue the USDA’s Hunger-Free Communities grant program,” failed on a voice vote.

Representative Amodei may one day have to explain why he voted for the Farm Bill, AND also voted for the amendment (Southerland H.Amdt. 231) which was the Deal Killer.   Mother always repeated the old saw, “Can’t have your cake and …..”

Representative Heck behaved precisely as one might expect of a Tea Party Darling, voting against the Farm Bill and voting for the Southerland Amendment.   There’s no time, and I’ve no enthusiasm for explaining yet again, the role of Automatic Stabilizers in the U.S. economy (such as Food Stamps) to a Representative who obviously doesn’t understand and evidently doesn’t want to.

Suffice it to say that a bill was reported out of House Committees, and then subjected to recorded votes on amendments from vote 256 to to 284 (not including the voice vote amendments).  It shouldn’t really surprise anyone that the final bill failed after minority support was peeled off during successive waves of amendments.

What is a bit incredible is that House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) couldn’t have foreseen the cumulative effect of the amendments on Democratic supporters of H.R. 1947.

Representative Cantor’s feeble attempt to lay the defeat of the Farm Bill at the office doors of Democrats who watched as “deal breaker” amendments were added to the legislation on the floor notwithstanding, perhaps the Washington Wags are on to something — Speaker Boehner cannot control his own caucus.   Brokering a “deal,” and then allowing amendments to come to the floor for recorded votes — amendments which are designed to deplete the store of minority good will — is a recipe for failure.

However, if the Speaker and his Party, are willing to offer the American public the governance philosophy that Nothing is Better Than Anything then he’s been successful.   If this is “success” then how to explain the tanking of Congressional approval?  The Congress of these United States now has an historically low approval rating — a rather miserable 10%.  [Gallup]

This sad state of affairs doesn’t bode well for some important measures which should be coming to the House floor — Immigration Reform, Student Loan interest rates, and JOBS, JOBS, Jobs, Jobs?

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