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Farm bill squeaks through House; almost entire Az delegation opposed

Food stamps dropped from legislation

The U.S. House barely passed a farm bill Thursday afternoon, with only one member of the Arizona delegation supporting the measure after leaders stripped the food stamp program out of it.

The 216-208 vote largely followed party lines, with every Democrat voting against the bill and 12 Republicans breaking ranks to vote against it.

Arizona Republican Reps. Trent Franks and Matt Salmon joined 10 other Republicans who opposed the bill, while Rep. David Schweikert said he would have voted against it – but he said he was out of town at a funeral and was not present for the hurried vote.

The bill came to the floor less than one day after House leaders removed the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, better known as food stamps.

Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Prescott, was the only Arizonan to vote in favor of the measure.

“As a representative of a rural and heavily agricultural district, I am glad our farmers have the policy reform they needed,” Gosar said in a statement after the vote. “This bill even includes important forest health measures and other conservation policies that protect my constituents.”

He added that the legislation removes welfare spending and abuse from agricultural policy.

But Schweikert disagreed, saying in a statement that the bill “was rife with a permanent entitlement system in the form of farm policy” and that it created an uncapped crop insurance program.

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The House bill cuts nearly $20 billion from farm subsidy programs – which included $5 billion that farmers receive even if they do not plant crops – and it redirects that money to a crop insurance program. The bill also creates new subsidies for peanuts, cotton and rice farmers, according to published reports.

Democrats blasted Republicans for cutting funding for food stamps, historically the largest part of the farm bill, saying Republicans had turned a nonpartisan issue into a partisan one.

“The bill I voted against today fails to authorize nutrition programs that benefit millions of families and ends long-standing protections for farmers and consumers at the supermarket,” Rep. Ron Barber, D-Tucson, said in a statement.

In June, the House blocked a farm bill that cut $20 billion from food stamps but still included the program in the measure. Just over 60 Republicans joined Democrats to vote against that measure.

In response, House leaders put forward a narrower bill Wednesday evening that removed food stamps entirely. It was still a 608-page bill, and leadership pushed it through for an expedited vote Thursday under a rule prohibiting amendments.

The future of the bill is uncertain as it will ultimately go to a conference committee, where House and Senate lawmakers will have to resolve discrepancies between the two versions of the bill. The Senate bill still includes food stamps, even though it cut $4 billion from the program over 10 years.

The White House issued a statement Wednesday evening threatening a veto, saying that while the administration had not had time to review the whole bill, it opposed the strong cuts to food stamps.

“The bill does not contain sufficient commodity and crop insurance reforms and does not invest in renewable energy, an important source of jobs and economic growth in rural communities across the country,” the White House statement said.

Republicans said they will consider food stamp funding, but in separate legislation. House Speaker John Boehner said reforming the food stamp program is “essential.”

“Our farm and food stamp programs need reform,” said Boehner in a statement that called Thursday’s vote “a positive first step toward” much-needed reforms.

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Emilie Eaton/Cronkite News Service

Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Prescott, was the only Arizona lawmaker to vote for the stripped-down farm bill, which he said will bring the agriculture policy reform that farmers in his largely rural district need.