House farm bill killed over food stamp cuts

Washington – In a major defeat for House Speaker John Boehnor, a new farm bill was killed Thursday by a coalition of Democrats concerned about food stamp cuts and Republicans concerned about farm subsidies.

All five members of Connecticut’s congressional delegation voted against the bill, which was rejected 234-195.  It was a rare victory for Connecticut’s Democrats in a chamber controlled by the GOP.

“The farm bill is a safety net for American farmers and families. In 2008, I was proud to support a bipartisan farm bill. Unfortunately, this was not the case today,” said Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-3rd District.

The farm bill would authorize $500 billion worth of farm programs over the next five years.

But only 24 Democrats voted for the legislation, while 62 Republicans voted “no.”

Powerful conservative groups –- including the Heritage Foundation — lobbied against the bill’s farm subsidies.

The farm bill died in the House last year because conservatives who wanted deeper cuts in the food stamp program, known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, would not support it.

This year’s  House bill would have cut $40 billion from farm programs over the next 10 years –- about half, or $20.5 billion from SNAP.

It was also loaded with amendments sponsored by conservative Republicans that would have put other limits on nutrition programs, including one that would require a SNAP recipient to work at least 20 hours a week to qualify for benefits.

Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, a member of the House Agriculture Committee, said he appreciated the efforts of committee’s Republican and Democratic leadership to craft a farm bill.

But he said he was disappointed “to see a number of partisan poison pills added to the bill over the course of the last two days that ended chances for the House to unite and pass this critical legislation.”

The Senate approved its version of the farm bill earlier this month. But the House bill’s failure leaves the future of the nation’s farm programs in danger.

Nevertheless, the nation’s dairy farmers are glad the farm bill died. It did not contain the overhaul they wanted for the nation’s dairy program – something included in the Senate bill. The House bill instead would have changed existing federal price supports for a program that dairy farmers say would keep the cost of milk low to benefit producers of dairy products.

Lucy Nolan, executive director of End Hunger Connecticut! was also relieved at the failure of the House bill.

“I think there was a feeling this bill was going to pass, but the [SNAP] cuts prompted Democrats to reject it,” she said

Some Democratic lawmakers had earlier argued in support of the House farm bill so negotiations with the Senate on a final bill could begin.

“But this bill was not a good place to start negotiations,” Nolan said.

She estimated 85,000 SNAP recipients in Connecticut would have had their benefits cut by $90 a month under the bill, and at least 4,000 would have lost their benefits entirely.

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