Aaron P. Bernstein | Reuters
Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, accompanied by Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), and Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA), speaks at a news conference following a closed House Republican conference meeting on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., December 19, 2017.
So Democrats rebelled en masse against this farm bill’s new work requirements for food stamp recipients. Complaining that more than 1 million households would lose food stamp benefits, all 183 House Democrats on hand voted no.
That defeated the bill because 30 House Republicans, defying lame-duck Speaker Paul Ryan and other party leaders, joined Democrats for radically different reasons. Their no votes reflected the the Trump-era centrality of restricting immigration.
As Democrats and GOP moderates seek separate legislation to protect so-called immigrant “Dreamers,” members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus decided the farm bill could become a bargaining chip to block them. Unable to gain the concessions they wanted, enough caucus members to sink the bill withheld their votes.
Farm bills have failed before. Congress couldn’t pass one on schedule in 2012, leading lawmakers to extend provisions of the 2008 version. The current law, which finally passed in 2014, is projected to cost $455 billion by its scheduled expiration later this year.
With 2018 midterm elections looming, Congress could fall back on a similar stop-gap extension this year. But the Senate isn’t giving up.
As a senior member of the Agriculture Committee, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky takes a strong personal interest in the issue. And because the farm bill won’t be considered under special “reconciliation” rules requiring only a majority vote, Senate passage will require support from at least nine Democrats to surmount an opposition filibuster.
That assures the Senate farm bill won’t include the sorts of food stamp restrictions that helped sink the House proposal today. Which means, in turn, that Congress will have at least one more chance to patch together a bipartisan farm coalition once again.