WASHINGTON - Republicans pushed a scaled-down farm bill through the House on Thursday, putting off a fight over food stamp spending and giving GOP leaders a victory after a decisive defeat on the larger bill last month.
Republicans faced significant opposition to the plan from Democrats, farm groups and conservative groups that threatened to use the vote against GOP members in future campaigns. But Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., navigated his colleagues to a narrow 216-208 vote by convincing Republican members that this was the best chance to get the bill passed and erase the embarrassment of the June loss.
Any other path to passage would have most likely included concessions to Democrats who opposed the original bill.
Last month 62 Republicans voted against a broader bill after House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Cantor supported it. Only 12 Republicans voted against the new measure and no Democrats voted for it.
Republicans said the food stamp part of the legislation would be dealt with separately at a later date, and Cantor said after the vote that Republicans would "act with dispatch" to get that legislation to the floor. That bill is expected to make cuts much deeper than the original bill, which trimmed around 3 percent, or about $2 billion a year, from the $80 billion-a-year feeding program.
Many Republicans had said the cut wasn't enough since the program's cost has doubled in the last five years. Democrats have opposed any cuts. The food stamp program doesn't need legislation to continue, but Congress would have to pass a bill to enact changes.
Dropping the food stamps drops the cost of the farm bill from $100 billion a year to about $20 billion a year.
The measure passed Thursday would cut farm program spending by about $1.3 billion a year and is almost identical to the larger bill defeated last month, except for the dropped food stamp language. It includes one new provision that repeals laws from the 1930s and 1940s that kick in when current farm law expires. Farm-state lawmakers have kept those laws on the books so there would be incentive to pass new farm bills, but the threat of outdated policies kicking in has been a headache for farmers who worry they can't depend on Congress to create new laws or extend more recent versions of the law.
Repealing those decades-old laws could mean that Congress would have little incentive to create new farm bills, however, and could make many of the new farm programs permanent.