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Stunned ag leaders regroup after farm bill failure

DANIEL LOOKER 06/20/2013 @ 5:52pm Business Editor

In the end, it was a stunning defeat in the House of Representatives Thursday for a farm bill labeled as reform. The House Agriculture Committee, led by a patient Oklahoma populist, Frank Lucas, had rejected calls for cuts of $31 billion or more to food stamp spending from the Republican party's small government reformers. The ranking Democrat, Collin Peterson of Minnesota, backed the bill's $20.5 billion trim to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), even though, as he put it later, "there were people in my party that were upset that I agreed to one penny of SNAP cuts."

Peterson thought he had about 50 Democrats who would still vote for the bill, those who hoped that a compromise with the Senate later would result in much smaller SNAP Cuts. When the vote came, only 24 were on board. Lucas and the GOP leadership failed to convince enough Republicans; 62 voted against the bill. The defeat of 234 to 195 was far short of the 218 majority needed.

The two leaders vowed not to give up.

"On this day, on this vote, the House worked its will," Lucas said in a statement. "I’m obviously disappointed, but the reforms in H.R. 1947- $40 billion in deficit reduction, elimination of direct payments, and the first reforms to SNAP since 1996 - are so important that we must continue to pursue them. We are assessing all of our options, 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."

Peterson told reporters in a press conference: "I have talked to Chairman Lucas and Chairwoman (Debbie) Stabenow (head of the Senate Agriculture Committee) in the last hour, and we don't have any kind of plan at this point."

But after four years of hard work on a farm bill, Peterson said they aren't giving up. He told Agriculture.com that it's possible for the Republican leadership to go back to the House Rules Committee with the original bill and bring it back to the floor with no amendments. Peterson thinks he would still have about 50 Democrats who would vote for it.

"I think there's a fair chance there'll be some kind of a process next week to bring something back," he said.

Peterson said that he felt support for the bill unraveling as amendments were passed Thursday. A dairy risk management program Peterson championed was replaced with a dairy margin insurance program offered by the former chair of the Ag Committee, Representative Bob Goodlatte (R-VA). That led to the defection of about five of Peterson's Democratic dairy policy allies, he said.

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