WASHINGTON — The House on Thursday rejected a bill that would have set farm and nutrition policies for the next five years as lawmakers clashed over food stamps.
Arkansas Farm Bureau President Randy Veach expressed disappointment with the result, saying the legislation is crucial to Arkansas farmers as they look ahead to future plantings and harvests.
"We don’t have anything we can really depend on as we begin making decisions on equipment purchases, seed, fertilizer, hay and things like that," Veach said.
After two days of debate and more than 100 amendments considered, the bill failed on a 195-234 vote. U.S. Reps. Rick Crawford, R-Jonesboro, Steve Womack, R-Rogers, and Tim Griffin, R-Little Rock, supported it.
Rep. Tom Cotton, R-Dardanelle, was one of 62 Republicans to oppose it. Most wanted deeper cuts made in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps.
Many of the 172 Democrats who opposed the bill complained the legislation slashed the food stamp program too deeply. It would have cut $20 billion from the program over 10 years – reducing the number of those receiving benefits by about 10 percent.
The program increased rapidly during the recent economic recession. In Arkansas, monthly household participation grew from 158,087 to 210,670 between 2007 and 2011.
"I think it is more appropriately called the food stamp bill because 80 percent of the spending is on food stamps and the increase in overall spending is just incredible," Cotton said. "In the end, I just didn’t think the benefits of the bill to Arkansas farmers justified the massive costs to Arkansas farmers and taxpayers."
Crawford, who serves on the House Agriculture Committee, said he was "extremely disappointed" by the defeat of the farm bill.
"While the bill was not perfect, it took significant steps to root out waste and abuse, and reduce our debt while reforming farm programs so they work for the modern agricultural economy," he said.
Crawford noted that the current farm law will expire in September, which means agriculture policy could revert to 1949 laws — causing drastic price increases and major disruptions in farm operations.
"This option is unacceptable. While the ill effects would hit everyone in America, rural states like Arkansas would be disproportionately affected," he said.
Griffin said he supported the bill because it would provide "a critical safety net" for Arkansas farmers and ranchers as well as save taxpayers $40 billion over the decade.
"A vote against this farm bill was a vote for wasteful status quo — this is a setback for reform," Griffin said.
Womack said he supported the legislation because it would have protected Arkansas farmers and made meaningful reforms to farm and food programs.
"The changes to the food stamp program – alone – would have saved taxpayers more than $20 billion," Womack said. "I remain committed to reducing spending, but our government is divided and our opportunities are limited. It’s a shame that we squandered this one."
Veach said he spoke with Cotton on Thursday before the vote.
"He laid out his reasons for not voting for it. We are disappointed in this vote but not disappointed in him altogether," Veach said. "We look forward to working with him to see if we can figure a way to get this back on the floor."
The 2008 farm bill was set to expire last year but Congress could not agree then on a new bill and instead approved a one-year extension.
The Senate has already approved its version of the bill, which calls for much smaller decreases in the food stamp program.