Farm bill goes down as Freedom Caucus votes against it
The House Freedom Caucus on Friday sank a partisan farm bill over an immigration dispute with GOP leadership, delaying a bill that included President Donald Trump’s push to impose stricter work requirements on food stamp recipients.
The bill went down, 198-213, after leaders feverishly tried to flip conservative votes on the floor, even leaving the vote open for a time to try to change opponents’ minds. It is a huge setback to the farm lobby and House Speaker Paul Ryan’s welfare reform agenda.
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The vote came after a 48-hour standoff between GOP leadership and members of the Freedom Caucus. The bloc of conservatives held the bill hostage, demanding that the House first vote on controversial immigration legislation in exchange for their support for the sweeping agriculture and nutrition legislation.
“It’s not a fatal blow, it’s just a reorganize,” said Freedom Caucus leader Mark Meadows. “I think at this point we just really need to deal with immigration in an effective way.”
Ryan’s team and Freedom Caucus leaders met late into Thursday to try and reach a deal. Earlier that day, the Freedom Caucus rejected the promise of an immigration vote in June, fearing leaders would break that agreement as they have in the past.
GOP leaders said they would delay a motion to reconsider the bill until a later date. It is unclear if they intend to try to pass the partisan bill again — or move to a bipartisan document that could easily clear the Senate.
“We’re not done with this,” Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) told reporters. “We’re going to continue until we get it done.”
Rejection of the legislation is reminiscent of the last farm bill cycle in 2013, when the House also voted down a conservative version of the legislation, delaying the process for months. Ultimately, the sweeping bill was bailed out by Democrats the following year.
While the farm bill is historically bipartisan legislation, Ryan has backed a Republican-only version this cycle as a way to notch a win on his welfare plan before he retires at the end of the year. House GOP leadership also pitched the bill as a positive messaging tool for the midterms.
“There could not be a better time to take action to help more people join our workforce,” Ryan said at a press conference Thursday, where he lauded the bill as a critical part of the Republican agenda.
The insistence on overhauling the $70 billion a year Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, however, left GOP leadership at the mercy of the Freedom Caucus because Democrats refused to support the stricter work requirements.
Trump also endorsed the legislation on Twitter on Thursday, which was seen as way to pressure the Freedom Caucus to fall in line. He didn’t sway the holdouts.
On Friday, the White House said the president was “disappointed” with the votes and “hopes the House can resolve any remaining issues in order to achieve strong work requirements and support our nation’s agricultural community.“
Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.), who was visibly peeved coming off the House floor after the vote, accused the Freedom Caucus of working with Democrats to tank the bill.
“This is a big victory for [Minority Leader] Nancy Pelosi and her allies,” he told reporters.
Leadership and House Agriculture Chairman Mike Conaway were unable to pull together factions of a divided Republican conference to pass the sweeping legislation. The farm bill reauthorization typically lasts five years and sets aside money for farm subsidies, rural development, environmental conservation programs, though nearly 80 percent is spent on food stamps and other nutrition assistance.
GOP farm-state lawmakers are hoping that the farm bill can provide some relief for agricultural producers dealing with a multiyear drop in crop prices and an uncertain trade environment.