Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
February 6, 2016

Farm Bill’s Failure Poisons Well in House

John Boehner

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Updated 6:23 p.m. | The House’s stunning defeat of the farm bill Thursday dealt another blow to Speaker John A. Boehner’s leadership and set off a poisonous round of partisan finger-pointing that raised questions about the ability of the chamber to craft bipartisan deals on immigration, the budget and the debt later this year.

As the dust settled after the resounding 195-234 vote, stakeholders traded blame over how the bill failed after days of debate on more than 100 amendments and were looking ahead to the fallout.

“I’d think that Democrats’ decision to sandbag us on the farm bill today makes it obvious how impractical it would be to rely on them for votes on immigration,” a GOP leadership aide said.

Democrats contended just the opposite — that Republicans had taken their votes for granted and jammed partisan amendments down their throats.

“It shows [Boehner] can’t pass anything with his own votes,” a Democratic leadership aide said. “The progress with immigration needs to be bipartisan … the only answer is, they gotta work with Democrats. They don’t have a choice.”

Republicans fumed, however, that Democrats promised they would deliver 40 votes only to withdraw them at the very last minute. Sixty-two Republicans voted against the bill, while two dozen Democrats supported it.

Most Democrats opposed the bill, unhappy with a $20.5 billion, 10-year cut to food stamps and backed by a White House veto threat, while Republicans split into competing factions, with a sizable group egged on by a host of conservative interest groups opposing the bill over concerns it did not cut deeply enough.

“After promising significant support, congressional Democrats walked away from years of bipartisan work on the farm bill at the last minute,” said Boehner spokesman Michael Steel. “This is a sad day for bipartisanship and for America’s farmers.”

Agriculture ranking member Collin C. Peterson, D-Minn., acknowledged to reporters that he told House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., that he had lost votes for the bill.

“He said, ‘What should we do?’ and I said, ‘I’ll try, but there’s not much I can do,'” Peterson said.

Two amendments angered key Democrats — one endorsed by Boehner that stripped the bill of a dairy supply management program, a move sure to anger lawmakers who hail from cow country — and another, sponsored by Rep. Steve Southerland II, R-Fla., that would have added work requirements to the food stamp program.

“The Southerland amendment has been debated, discussed … for weeks. Everybody knew that it was coming, everybody knew that it was going to pass,” said Cantor spokesman Rory Cooper.

“Unfortunately, Nancy Pelosi and Democratic leadership decided that politics was more important than going to conference and getting things done,” he said. He called the Democrats’ decision to vote at the last minute against the bill a “complete collapse of professionalism and maturity on the Democratic Party’s part and unfortunately a slap in the face of the American people.”

But in a briefing with reporters following the vote, Pelosi called the floor proceedings as managed by Republicans “amateur hour,” calling them “juvenile” and “unprofessional” and disputing accusations that Democrats fell short of their agreement to deliver 40 votes.

“They didn’t get the results and they put the blame on someone else,” the California Democrat said.

Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., on hand to talk about Democratic efforts to force GOP leaders to go to conference on a budget, weighed in as well.

“If Leader Pelosi was Speaker Pelosi, this would never happen,” he said. “She knew how to govern. … It’s pathetic that the Republican whip team would be trying to point fingers at others.”

Democrats called the Southerland amendment a “poison pill,” likening it to the fiscal 2014 Homeland Security appropriations bill, which lost Democratic votes when the House voted in favor of an amendment, sponsored by Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, that would remove protections against deportation for undocumented immigrants brought to the country as young children.

“The fact of the matter is, it was a bipartisan bill … and it was turned into a partisan bill,” House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md., said on the House floor in a tense colloquy with Cantor.

In the midst of assessing the political fallout of the vote’s defeat, lawmakers were not immediately discussing the logistical next steps for passing a crucial five-year authorization of various farm programs, many of which expired when the House was unable to pass a farm bill last year.

The farm bill had been one of the first big tests for the speaker this year, with immigration and budget battles yet to come.

Leadership had warned conservatives that if a farm bill did not pass, an extension was likely that would not include changes and savings conservatives support.

House Agriculture Chairman Frank D. Lucas, R-Okla., told reporters as he left the floor that, at least for him, what should come next is “healing.”

The conservative Club for Growth, which urged a “no” vote on the legislation, had a different suggestion Thursday afternoon.

“Now that the House has defeated the Farm Bill, we should finally discuss real reform,” Club for Growth President Chris Chocola said in a statement. “The time for reform is now. We need to put farm subsidies on a path to elimination and we need to devolve food stamps to the state level where they belong. With $17 trillion in debt, the American taxpayers don’t have time to wait.”

But Senate Agriculture Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., had a suggestion of her own.

“The House needs to find a way to get a five-year Farm Bill done,” she said in a statement. “The Speaker needs to work in a bipartisan way and present a bill that Democrats and Republicans can support. He could start by bringing the Senate bill to the floor for a vote.”

  • Monica V Lucas

    Whoever those “Democrats” are that voted against social welfare are some kind of plant by the opposition. No way a true Dem would take away such an essential safety net. Vote them OUT.

    • hepette

      debbie stabenow…….michigan……….will never vote for her again!!!

    • ojfl

      You do know they voted against it because the bill did not spend enough, do you not Monica?

  • Big Cat Rescue

    This bill had the notorious King Amendment that would gut animal protection and I believe that is why the bill failed. In a late night deal he apparently tried to undue years of work to stop animal suffering and animal loves spoke out lout and clear.

  • YogiToes52

    This bill was all about Big Ag, including the King Amendment which takes away a states right to enact animal protection laws. This bill is not just about farmers, it is about our food and our right to know what is in our food. It should not have been passed as it is. Get Big Ag out of it and stop trying to take away State’s rights.

  • Debbie Catalina

    This article is completely lacking in any analysid of what, if any, role the King amendment and stripped animal welfare amendments played in the defeat of the farm bill. With these matters were hotly debated, with huge numbers of people across the country watching the for the outcome with bated breath because of them. These people deserve some word and analysis with regard to the role of animal welfare in the defeat of the farm bill.

    • gjdodger

      The King Amendment played absolutely no role in the bill’s defeat. The reporter pegged it correctly. The bill passed out of committee with about half the Democrats in favor, and had they not changed the dairy program Peterson would have been able to whip Reps from dairy states, and then they put in the workfare stuff for food stamps that chased the rest of the Dems away. And despite making changes that made the bill poison to Democrats, 62 Republicans still voted against it. If you’re going to make a bill partisan, you have to get your own party to vote for it. A massive, massive failure for Boehner.

      • Rob_Chapman


        I personally signed a number of petitons regarding the KIng Amendment.

        There are millions of everyday Americans who objected to weakening protections of animals in the farm bill.

        It is unfathomable that people exist in this country who lack the basic moral scruples to demand that their meat be produced by humane methods.

      • covariance

        The King Amendment is why I contacted my Rep to vote against the bill. I dislike all the Big Ag provisions too, but they will get their way with or without this bill. I wish they would just focus on the true farm bill itself without the need for late night Amendments.

    • Rob_Chapman

      Agreed, the author of this article attempted a puff piece on Boehner, one of the least effective Speakers in US history.

  • FareedAnsari

    Radical Pee Pot republicans are in open mutiny and revolt. These House participants are too immature and conflicted to govern. Clean House 2014. Boehner can not lead a rebel mob with no real understanding of their function.

    • Rob_Chapman

      The people in revolt are teh GOP members who supported the farm bill, they show no conscience or concern for the public.

  • anilpetra

    Obama has sent paid solicitors to every corner of the country to sign up food stamp participants, blowing the program out of proportion with real food needs in this country, and making it harder to target the truly needy.

    His Administration has the same plans for Obamacare.

    • Wisco

      What would a political comment thread be without crack pot conspiracy theories?

      • anilpetra


        not in the slightest.

        plain as day.

        you’re an obama policy denier.

  • Sue Sherrill

    If Conservatives and Tea Partiers think this is a victory, they had better be careful! The next version could be WORSE!

    • ojfl

      It can always be defeated again Sue.

  • Rob_Chapman

    Farm Bill’s Failure Poisons Well in House

    That is a bogus headline.

    The Speaker invoked the Hastert view to flex his muscles and failed.

    The failure of the farm bill represents nothing more than utter ineffectiveness of the House GOP leadership.

  • Rob_Chapman

    Republicans fumed, however, that Democrats promised they would deliver 40 votes only to withdraw them at the very last minute.

    With 100 amendments the Republicans were offering a pig in a poke. If they want votes, they can’t change the bill.

    Commitments to vote are not made carte blanche.

  • Wisco

    Worst. Speaker. Ever.

  • Chris King

    oh, so libs killed the bill….. not the GOP…..
    interesting the lies they’re telling at nbc.

  • Viventis

    That’s the problem with using the Christmas Tree approach to legislation. The Farm Bill bundled with Food Stamp cuts was the death of the bill. How about passing a law that nothing can be bundled with a bill unless it has a reasonable nexus to the main bill?

    • ojfl

      Or better yet Viventis, pass separate bills.

  • debbie

    I am sorry for the farmers, but I am NOT sorry this did NOT PASS, I believe only one amendment about any rights of the animals was passed, they would NOT even give any a chance to have a voice on the floor Pete Sessions shut all down, that being any amendment’s to the SORING of HORSES or Bill 1094/s.541 ban horse slaughter and transport…. WOULD NOT even give them a chance NONE, is this country FREE??? I believe it is NOT, POWER in BIG AGR. and others have the power to over ride anything and they do it, doesn’t matter what 80% of us want, are so called leaders, ( not all ) have their own pocket lining agenda…. Makes me ill what this country is becoming…………………..

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