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House passes part of farm bill

By a partisan vote of 216 to 208, the House Thursday passed a stripped down farm bill that leaves out its most expensive part, the Nutrition Title.

"Pass the farm bill farm bill, so that I can begin to work on the nutrition part of the farm bill next." House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-OK) told his colleagues just before the vote, which didn't get any Democratic support and was opposed by about a dozen Republicans. It was a victory for Representative Marlin Stutzman (R-IN), a fourth generation farmer who came to Congress in the Tea Party wave of 2010 and who has been working for a year to make farm programs and nutrition programs stand on their own."

"Together we can get this done and pass the first farm-only farm bill in 40 years," Stutzman said at the start of a sometimes emotional debate. The bill passed today is similar to the amended version that the House defeated on June 20, and includes a consolidated conservation title that saves $6 billion over 10 years, as well as a commodity title that ends direct payments. One key difference is that it would replace the 1949 permanent farm bill, which Lucas said was in effect when Harry Truman was President and is outdated.

The House Ag Committee's top Democrat, Representative Collin Peterson opposed the bill, as did all of the Democrats on the committee.

"You have now managed to make me a partisan, and that's a darned hard thing to do," Peterson said, pointing out that he voted for the bill on June 20, even when his own dairy program was replaced with an amendment that he says is likely to be a more expensive form of risk management for dairy. Republicans who succeeded in getting amendments passed last month turn around and voted against the final bill, he said. Peterson criticized ending the 1949 law as permanent legislation, which in the past has spurred Congress to replace it with five-year revisions.

"I think repealing permanent law all but insures that we will never write a farm bill again in this House," Peterson said. Lucas pointed out later that the permanent law hasn't worked to get a farm bill passed over the last two years.

Democratic opposition to today's farm bill came from distrust over the extent of nutrition cuts that might be in the next nutrition bill. Lucas promised an open process to write that title, but said he couldn't say today how how much would be cut from nutrition spending.

"I have great respect for the chairman of the agriculture committee Mr. Lucas, but I do not trust the Republican leadership," said Representative Jim McGovern (D-MA), a member of the agriculture committee who has opposed cuts to food stamp spending.

"We have no idea what was promised to get votes," McGovern said, referring to the Wednesday evening meeting of the House Rules Committee that produced the bill considered Thursday. The effort to split the farm bill was led by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, who played a role in killing the farm bill last month. Republican leaders worked hard to get a majority of their own party to back this second farm bill vote. The fate of Thursday's bill remains uncertain.

Until Thursday, most of a coalition of more than 500 farm and ag groups remained against splitting the farm bill, but it got last minute backing of a key group, the National Corn Growers Association. Thursday's bill still has to be combined with a different Senate bill in a conference committee.

Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), didn't exactly welcome the House bill in a statement issued just after the vote: "The bill passed by the House today is not a real Farm Bill," Stabenow said, "and is an insult to rural America, which is why it’s strongly opposed by more than 500 farm, food and conservation groups. We will go to conference with the bipartisan, comprehensive Farm Bill that was passed in the Senate that not only reforms programs, supports families in need and creates agriculture jobs, but also saves billions more than the extremely flawed House bill."

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