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House flies through farm bill amendments

DANIEL LOOKER 06/19/2013 @ 11:37pm Business Editor

On the first day of voting on amendments to the House Farm Bill, an effort by 71 Democrats to restore cuts to food stamp spending failed by a vote of 188 to 234. The vote was almost entirely along party lines, with only five Republicans voting to restore funds for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. Just a few more Democrats voted with Republicans not to restore the $20.5 billion that the farm bill cuts from SNAP over 10 years.

Representative Jim McGovern (D-MA) led the effort to block the SNAP cuts, arguing that they will hurt children and decent hard working poor people.

He recalled that former Senator Bob Dole (R-KS) was a strong supporter of nutrition aid, and he urged Democrats to vote with him. "If we do not stand for the poor and the hungry, then what are we doing here?" he asked.

Representative Steve King (R-IA) who, like McGovern, is a member of the Agriculture Committee, spoke against the amendment. He's concerned about the growth of the dependency class in the U.S., he said. And fraud.

"We don't want to hand these out to people who are gaming the system, so to speak," King said.

Other amendments were less partisan.

Representatives Ed Royce (R-CA) and Eliot Engel (D-NY) tried to convince members that up to 45% of international food aid be purchased overseas instead of shipping U.S. commodities. The reform, advocated by the Obama Administration, narrowly failed by a vote of 203 to 220, with almost an even number of Democrats and Republicans voting for it and against it.

Even though the Agriculture Committee Chairman opposed it, the House approved an amendment backed by Representative Marcy Kaptur (D-OH) to improve federal coordination of efforts to reduce the decline in honey bees and other pollinators. That passed by a vote of 273 to 149. Lucas said the amendment gave too much authority to the secretary of agriculture. Kaptur said that "since 2006 we have lost 10 million beehives costing beekeepers more than $2 billion." Experts say we're only one bad winter away from a loss of pollinators that's severe enough to affect production of many crops.

Debate lasted almost until midnight in Washington and will start again tomorrow morning. The House has considered more than half of just over 100 amendments to the bill by voice vote. But final passage depends on recorded votes on many of those, including an amendment offered by Representative Ron Kind (D-WI) to put an income test and premium subsidy limits on crop insurance.

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