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US House Rejects Farm Bill

Illinois Congressman Rodney Davis (R-Taylorville) says he hopes lawmakers go back to the drawing board by coming up with a new farm bill that can pass the House.

On Thursday, the Republican-controlled House rejected a five year, $500 billion farm bill, with insufficient funding for the food stamp program being a major sticking point.

The House’s version would have cut $2 billion annually from food stamps, whereas the Senate’s version looks at cutting about $400 million a year from the program.

Davis, who is a member of the House Ag Committee, said he thinks the differences that kept lawmakers from coming together on the plan can be worked out.

“Votes committed by the other side were not going to pan out," Davis said. "We got to go back and work out a better deal. I commend those on the other side who realized how important comprehensive farm legislation is that actually reforms and restructures our food nutrition program, so that those who need the benefits the most will get them.”

The bill included generous benefits to farmers, mainly in the form of government-subsidized crop insurance. It did not include a host of proposed reforms: limits on crop subsidies; proposals to buy more international food aid abroad, rather than ship it from U.S. ports; and nationwide standards on cages for egg-laying chickens, an idea supported by the country's biggest egg producers and also the Humane Society of the U.S.

The vote was 234-195 against the bill. Sixty-two Republicans voted no, while 24 Democrats voted in favor of the bill. All Illinois Republicans voted for it, while the only Democrats from the state to support it were Reps. Bill Enyart of Belleville and Cheri Bustos of East Moline.

Most Democrats voted overwhelmingly against the bill largely because of the cuts to the food stamp program, but the large number of Republicans also voted against the bill, which highlighted an emerging new bipartisan reality. Farmers, along with those members of Congress who represent farm districts, are losing their grip on U.S. farm policy.

In the past, the full House might have let the Agriculture Committee have its way. Not this year. Libertarians and liberals alike ganged up to defeat it.

Ed Royce (R-Calif.), a senior Republican who tried unsuccessfully to reform the food aid parts of the bill, voted against it, and so did budget hawk Paul Ryan (R-Wisc). 

The conservative Heritage Foundation, which wanted deeper cuts in both food stamps and farm subsidies, called the bill's defeat "a victory for the taxpayer and the free market.

Illinois Congressman John Shimkus (R-Collinsville) said he was not surprised the House’s measure failed, but he was disappointed. He said it is more likely the existing 2008 farm bill will be extended again.

"The best thing we can hope for is an extension," Shimkus said. "It was an open, fair, transparant system that in the end couldn't garner enough votes to support a passage."

The Democratically-controlled Senate already passed its version of the plan, but that will remain in limbo until the House decides its next steps.

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) said Thursday that the committee is assessing all its options and will continue its work in the "near future."