Farm Bill Finally Passes the House

The 959-page legislation advanced Wednesday with the lower-chamber support it lacked last year.

National Journal

Nearly 48 hours after congressional negotiators revealed the legislation, the five-year farm bill passed the House by a 251-166 vote Wednesday morning.

Sixty-three Republicans and 103 Democrats opposed the bill, which now heads to the Senate, where passage is expected as early as Thursday. President Obama has said he will sign it, fulfilling one of his three major priorities for 2013 — the budget, immigration reform, and a farm bill — a few weeks late.

So far, addressing the nation's long-term agriculture policy has seen smoother sailing in Congress than it did last year. Wednesday's vote comes just six months after the legislation, which typically sails through Congress, unexpectedly failed in the House when Republican leadership miscalculated support. The 2013 bill went down thanks in part to the conservative push for large cuts to the food-stamp program that pulled any Democratic support away from the legislation.

The Senate had passed its own version of the legislation, which included fewer cuts to the food-stamp program than its House counterpart, but negotiations stalled after the failed House vote. The House passed a scaled-down version of its own bill in July, but it did not include food-stamp policy.

The new bill cuts about $8 billion from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps) over five years — about double what the Senate version of the bill requested, but less than half of what House negotiators wanted. Those cuts offended many progressives, who opposed the bill Wednesday.

Dozens of Republicans decried the bill. The 959-page legislation was released Monday night, giving lawmakers less than 48 hours to read it. Members on both sides of the aisle complained that Speaker John Boehner had broken House Republicans' own pledge to allow members three days to read bills before they hit the floor. And several conservatives warned they could not support legislation that may include a number of pork projects that they wouldn't notice until after the bill had passed.

The 2014 legislation is the result of months of negotiations between conferees from both chambers, led by the two Agriculture committees' chairs, Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan and GOP Rep. Frank Lucas of Oklahoma. The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that the bill will spend $956 billion over five years and cut $16.6 billion in overall spending over 10 years.

Before the 15-minute vote began, Lucas called the farm-bill deal close to a "miracle."

After witnessing the farm bill's sudden failure last year, Stabenow spent Wednesday morning in the House Democratic cloakroom to encourage her colleagues to back the legislation and watch the final vote.

"I was extremely pleased with the final tally," Stabenow said after the vote. "I learned a long time ago that it's not over until the vote is closed, so I wanted to make absolutely sure.... I came over to be personally involved to make sure that didn't happen again."

House Agriculture Commitee ranking member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., said he repeatedly told Stabenow to calm down, reassuring her that they'd have the votes. "Stabenow, she was all over the place. She was running all over the floor," he joked.

Stabenow still has the Senate to worry about, though she predicted that the bill will pass. Lucas, however, is off the hook.

After the vote, Lucas said he would spend the afternoon celebrating by finally getting a few minutes to himself to "let the blood pressure level drop just a little bit."

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story gave the incorrect state for Rep. Collin Peterson. He represents Minnesota.

Elahe Izadi contributed to this article