House Democrats said cuts to the food stamp program were too big; Republicans said they were too small.
Lawmakers defeated the proposed $940 billion farm bill on a 195-234 vote Thursday after Democrats protested cuts of $20.5 billion to a public assistance program that helps feed 50 million low-income Americans.
The United States’ current farm and nutrition programs expire in September 2013, but the American public will have to wait a little longer for a new farm bill. There is no clear indication of when a suitable proposal will gather enough support to pass in the House.
Much of Thursday’s debate was focused on cuts that would have affected children from low-income families who rely upon the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly known as food stamps, to receive free meals at school. According to the Congressional Budget Office, 210,000 children would lose access to free lunch if their parents are removed from the program.
Food stamp usage has grown by about 70 percent since the financial crisis of 2008, costing the government $74.6 billion last year.
The vote this week saw 62 Republicans voting against the measure. They claimed that the spending cuts were too small.
“While it might have been called a ‘farm bill,’ the American people understand that it was anything but,” said Rep. Marlin Stutzman (R-Ind.) in a statement to the New York Times. “This trillion-dollar spending bill is too big and would have passed welfare policy on the backs of farmers.”
The cuts could imperil constituents who rely upon the food stamp program for assistance. House Speaker John Boehner’s congressional district in Ohio includes 24,478 households that use food stamps to feed their families, according to 2010 statistics posted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
NBC News reports that some Republicans came under pressure from conservative interest groups like the Club for Growth and the Koch Brothers-linked Americans for Prosperity to vote against the proposal for budgetary reasons.
Before the bill went down, the House did manage to pass a number of amendments this week, including one that allows states to test food stamp applicants for drug use and another requiring food stamp recipients to meet work requirements.
“The price of a farm bill should not be making more people hungry in America or criminalizing people who need help,” said Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) in a New York Times statement, objecting to the two amendments, which were supported by most Republicans.
Some Republicans supporting the amendments claimed that they would help put people back to work.
“We cannot continue to deny able-bodied people the dignity of work. There seems to be a belief in the nanny state that there’s something wrong with requiring abled-bodied people to work. That’s what this amendment does.” said Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.) in a Huffington Post statement.
The New York Times reports that the House floor debate devolved into partisan bickering after the vote, with each side blaming the other for failing to pass a farm bill.
“You took a bipartisan bill and turned it into a partisan bill,” said Rep. Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, the House’s No. 2 Democrat. “It’s unfortunate for farmers, for consumers and our country.”
Representative Eric Cantor (R-Va.), the House majority leader, said Democrats had “turned a bipartisan bill, necessary for our farmers, necessary for our consumers, necessary for the people of America, that many of us would have supported, and you turned it into a partisan bill,” in a Huffington Post statement.