The Republican-led House on Thursday narrowly passed a split-off version of a five-year farm bill minus its traditional authorization for food stamp and other nutrition programs, over protests from Democrats and some agriculture and conservative groups.
The 216-to-208 mostly party-line vote was tense, and the passage of the 608-page bill represented a big challenge for GOP leaders who failed last month to get a broader measure passed.
Now, however, uncertainty reigns over how negotiations on a final version may proceed with the Senate. Moreover, the White House warned late Wednesday that President Obama would veto any farm bill that does not also address food-aid policy.
"Have a heart. Where's your conscience?" asked Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., of Republicans on the House floor before the vote. "What makes this country great is we have a tradition of taking care of the least among us ... making sure the hungry have enough to eat."
Other Democrats took to the floor in the lead-up to the vote to similarly cast Republicans as sticking it to poor people. "This is wrong," said Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. "Taking food out of the mouth of babies -- I don't think so."
But Speaker John Boehner insisted that the aim of removing food stamps from the bill for the first time since the 1970s was to "get a farm bill passed." Just last month, the House GOP leaders had suffered a chaotic, embarrassing defeat of their broader, $940 billion version that included food stamps, watching as 62 fellow Republicans joined most Democrats in opposing that legislation.