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Democrat, Republican Defectors Sink House Farm Bill

Farm Bill passage threatened for this year.

WASHINGTON - For the second time since 2013, Republican conservatives joined a massive block of Democratic opponents to defeat a farm bill on Friday, an upset that could prevent Congress from enacting a farm bill this year.

Speaker Paul Ryan filed a motion to reconsider the 213-198 vote against the bill - a last-ditch parliamentary maneuver to revive the bill. House rules would require a vote on the motion by Tuesday, said congressional staff workers. 

Members of the small-government Freedom Caucus voted against the farm bill in order to force a vote on an immigration bill. Democrats opposed the bill because it failed to strengthen the farm safety net and would impose stricter work requirements on food stamp recipients.

"It was all about timing and leverage. The farm bill, unfortunately, was a casualty," said Rep Scott Perry, a Pennsylvania Republican and Freedom Caucus member. 

If Republican leaders cannot resurrect the farm bill next week, the path to passage of a successor to the 2014 farm law becomes longer. The House would have to generate a new farm bill. The Senate Agriculture Committee has not yet unveiled its version but its chairman, Pat Roberts, says it will not make major changes to food stamps.

"What we'll end up with is an extension" of the 2014 law, said Collin Peterson, the senior Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee. "We (Democrats) are willing to go back to the drawing board and fix" the farm bill. If there is an extension, farmers will not have the option to switch to PLC from ARC and enrollment in the CRP would remain at 24 million acres instead of rising to 29 million acres - two provisions in the defeated bill.

Written by Conaway, the House farm bill would expand the list of relatives eligible for crop subsidies and remove payment limits on some types of corporate farms. It also would eliminate the green-payment CSP. For the most part, the farm bill makes minor changes to farm supports; it includes the possibility of higher PLC reference prices if commodity prices improve. Most important for farm groups, it maintains a strong crop insurance system. Earlier this year, Congress revamped cotton and dairy subsides in a government funding bill. 

Peterson and food-stamp defenders fault House Agriculture chairman Michael Conaway for refusing to negotiate over provisions to require "work capable" adults to work at least 20 hours a week or spend an equal amount of time in job training or workfare to qualify for food stamps. "I didn't see how we could do this on a partisan basis," said Peterson.

Five years ago, the House defeated the farm bill when conservative Republicans demanded the biggest cuts in food stamps in a generation. Democratic defenders of food stamps joined them in voting against the 2013 bill. This time, House conservatives withheld their votes because they wanted the immigration vote. A handful of suburban Republicans voted against the bill because the food stamp revisions would hurt their districts. Democrats said complex and unworkable paperwork would accompany the GOP plan for work requirements.

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