WASHINGTON — In a stinging defeat to Rep. Frank Lucas, the House on Thursday rejected a five-year farm bill, as Democrats rebelled against cuts in the food stamp program and Republicans objected to spending on farm subsidies and nutrition aid.
The bill's failure, by a 195-234 vote, came after two days of divisive votes over the safety net for the nation's farmers and the level of funding for the food stamp program, which has exploded in size in the past decade.
The bill's proposed $2 billion annual cuts to food stamps, formally called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, enraged Democrats, who lost an effort Wednesday to restore the money. Only 24 Democrats voted for the bill on Thursday, while 172 opposed it.
Four of Oklahoma's five House members voted for the legislation, crafted by Lucas and members of the House Agriculture Committee that he leads. Freshman Rep. Jim Bridenstine, R-Tulsa, who is aligned with the tea party, voted against it.
Lucas, R-Cheyenne, said after the vote he was disappointed and looking at options for moving forward, “but I have no doubt that we will finish our work in the near future and provide the certainty that our farmers, ranchers and rural constituents need.”
He said reforms and savings in the bill — an estimated $40 billion over 10 years, with half of that from food stamps — “are so important that we must continue to pursue them.”
Many outside groups, including taxpayer watchdog groups and others aligned with conservative interests, had urged lawmakers to oppose the bill, arguing there should be separate bills for the food stamp and farm subsidy programs.
Nearly 80 percent of the bill, which would spend nearly $1 trillion over 10 years, is devoted to food stamp spending.
Traditional coalition collapsed
Combining the nutrition and farm programs has for decades created a coalition of urban and rural lawmakers that eased the passage of farm bills.
But that coalition collapsed on Thursday, as Republicans added to the food stamp cuts a pilot program that would allow states to require SNAP recipients to work or look for jobs.
On top of that was a battle over the complex dairy program. At the urging of House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, the House on Thursday killed a controversial new plan that would have injected new government controls on milk production.
Paltry support from Democrats and opposition from 62 Republicans doomed the bill on the final vote.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., and other Republican leaders criticized Democrats for turning the legislation into a partisan battle, but Democrats put the blame on the GOP.
Rep. Colin Peterson, D-Minn., the top Democrat on the Agriculture Committee, said the bill failed “because the House Republicans could not control the extreme right wing of their party.”
Republicans played “political games with extreme policies that have no chance of becoming law,'' Peterson said, adding that he had a hard time “seeing where we go from here.”
President Barack Obama had threatened to veto the House bill, largely because of the food stamp cuts. But the bill — if it passed — was expected to be reconciled with the Senate version, which cut much less from food stamps.