Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives achieved a Pyrrhic victory earlier today with the passage of an unconscionable, cruel farm bill that they managed to pass with only a handful of votes to spare after hours of acrimonious debate.
The Republican-backed proposal, which passed without a single Democratic vote, provides around $195 billion in subsidies to agribusiness over the next ten years, similar to what legislation already approved by the Senate calls for. But it does not continue funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, which is the public service that provides food stamps to low income families.
SNAP simply isn’t in the bill. At all.
Years ago, we would probably have called this vote outrageous. But, sadly, it’s what we’ve come to expect from a House Republican caucus that is dominated by extreme, far-right, radical extremists who delight in taking a wrecking ball to vital public services. Twelve Republicans could not bring themselves to vote for the bill that Republican “leadership” put on the floor, and joined all of the House Democrats present in voting against it. The final vote was 216-208.
The roll call from the Pacific Northwest was strictly along party lines.
Voting Aye: Republicans Jaime Herrera-Beutler, Doc Hastings, Cathy McMorris Rodgers, Dave Reichert (WA); Greg Walden (OR); Steve Daines (MT); Don Young (AK); Raúl Labrador and Mike Simpson (ID)
Voting Nay: Democrats Suzan DelBene, Rick Larsen, Derek Kilmer, Jim McDermott, and Denny Heck (WA); Suzanne Bonamici, Earl Blumenauer, Peter DeFazio and Kurt Schrader (OR)
Not Voting: Democrat Adam Smith (WA)
It would be an understatement to say that the proceedings that led up to the vote on the bill were heated. They were downright bitter.
Democrats repeatedly denounced the exclusion of SNAP from the bill, noting that nutritional assistance for America’s impoverished families has always been part of what has become commonly known as the “farm bill”.
Democrats also repeatedly used parliamentary maneuvers and delaying tactics to slow consideration of the bill down, frustrating House Republicans.
In the end, the bill was approved, but its narrow passage is a Pyrrhic victory for John Boehner, Eric Cantor, Kevin McCarthy and House Republicans.
Conservative advocacy groups like the Club for Growth don’t like the Republicans’ Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act because it makes a number of subsidies permanent and sends even more money to agribusiness than the Senate’s farm bill. As one conservative group (Taxpayers for Common Sense) sees it:
With a $16.8 trillion national debt, our country simply cannot afford to continue sending checks to agribusinesses regardless of the state of the farm economy, crop prices, or whether or not producers even need or want government subsidies. H.R. 2642 would spend $1 billion more than comparable sections in the Senate-passed bill, increase FY14 spending by $1.34 billion above the current baseline, and only save $3.9 billion over the life of the actual bill (FY14-18) with the rest ($9 billion) occurring after this farm bill expires in FY18. In addition, it would spend drastically more than either the comparable portions of the President’s FY14 budget request or Rep. Paul Ryan’s FY14 budget (which called for $38 billion and $31 billion in savings, respectively). A Congressional Budget Office score hasn’t even been posted yet.
Progressive advocacy groups like NPI, meanwhile, strongly oppose H.R. 2642 because it would inflict a tremendous amount of harm and accomplish almost nothing positive for America’s families and farmers.
House Republicans may think they’ve pleased their base by passing a bill that does away with SNAP. But if the statements issued by the likes of the Club for Growth are any indication, they failed to even accomplish that. All they have succeeded in doing is passing a travesty of a bill that even they know will never get to President Obama’s desk or win a single Democratic vote in the U.S. Senate.
H.R. 2642 “is not a real farm bill and is an insult to rural America,” Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow declared in the wake of the vote. Stabenow chairs the Senate’s Agriculture Committee and will likely lead Senate Democrats’ negotiating team when the House and Senate’s dueling farm bills go to conference.
The White House, for its part, made it abundantly clear last night that President Obama considers the bill unacceptable and would veto it if it reached him.
The Administration strongly opposes H.R. 2642, the Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act of 2013. Because the 608 page bill was made available only this evening, the Administration has had inadequate time to fully review the text of the bill. It is apparent, though, that the bill does not contain sufficient commodity and crop insurance reforms and does not invest in renewable energy, an important source of jobs and economic growth in rural communities across the country. Legislation as important as a Farm Bill should be constructed in a comprehensive approach that helps strengthen all aspects of the Nation. This bill also fails to reauthorize nutrition programs, which benefit millions of Americans — in rural, suburban and urban areas alike. 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.
If the President were presented with H.R. 2642, his senior advisors would recommend that he veto the bill.
U.S. Representative Suzan DelBene, who represents NPI’s home congressional district, spoke against H.R. 2642 on the floor of the House prior to its passage, decrying its provisions. Her brief remarks were as follows (watch them here).
Mr. Speaker, I rise with great disappointment today. It’s a shame that the House has allowed the Farm Bill to get to this point.
We should be voting on the bipartisan bill the Agriculture Committee passed and I supported. Not this bill, which has been hijacked by divisive politics and is simply not good enough.
It’s not good enough for our farmers, because reforms that would have protected Washington’s dairy farmers and consumers have been stripped out.
It’s certainly not good enough for the millions of working families, seniors and children who count on nutrition programs and have been excluded from this bill.
And it’s not good enough for the country.
Our constituents sent us here to work across the aisle to deliver results. This bill is certainly not what they had in mind. While I appreciate that funding for specialty crops, which I fought hard for, is in this bill, this is the wrong way to conduct agriculture policy for the future.
Our country’s farmers and families deserve a Farm Bill that works for everyone. Instead, they’ve been given this. I am incredibly disappointed today, and join my colleagues in voting against this bill.
Advocates for ending child hunger were also sharply critical of the bill. Last month, Share our Strength’s Billy Shore released a lengthy statement explaining why the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance program is so important.
It’s crucial that families have the tools that help their SNAP benefits last longer and are used in a healthy way. SNAP Ed—which faces significant cuts in this legislation— provides families skills that help them to use their benefits wisely. And these important nutrition skills last a lifetime; although most people rely on SNAP benefits for less than 10 months, the skills learned through SNAP Ed help them to make educated decisions and stay healthy even after they no longer rely on SNAP benefits. We should be investing more in programs like SNAP Ed, not cutting funding for them.
SNAP works. At a time when our nation is focused on major issues like strengthening our education system, fixing health care and growing a more productive workforce, cuts to SNAP are short-sighted and wrong.
Emphasis is theirs.
Sadly, it’s evident that feeding the hungry, caring for the sick, and clothing the naked is not a priority for House Republicans. Most, if not all of them, probably consider themselves Christian. But we can’t think of anything more un-Christian than backing a bill that provides billions of dollars for Big Ag, but doesn’t help America’s impoverished families by continuing funding for SNAP.
In the Book of Matthew, Jesus talks to his disciples about the Day of Judgment, and describes how the people are to be judged. He explains:
When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit upon his glorious throne, and all the nations will be assembled before him. And he will separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.
He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
Then the king will say to those on his right:
“Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.”
Then the righteous will answer him and say, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?” And the king will say to them in reply, “Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.”
– Matthew 25:31-40
And significantly, the only miracle of Jesus that is recounted in all four Gospels (aside from the Resurrection) is the feeding of the crowd of five thousand with a few loaves of bread and some fish. It’s pretty evident from Scripture that feeding the hungry was a major part of Jesus’ ministry during his time on Earth.
If the United States of America is indeed a Christian nation, as we have heard conservative Republicans often claim, then shouldn’t our government’s policies reflect the teachings of Jesus? That is what it means to be a Christian: to accept the teachings of Jesus. Jesus’ message about feeding the hungry comes across pretty clearly to me and to other progressive Christians.
It’s very unfortunate, though sadly not surprising, that all of the conservatives in the U.S. House of Representatives who call themselves Christian felt that it was appropriate to support legislation that did away with SNAP altogether in the hopes of exacting more cuts from food aid in the final version of the farm bill.