In yet another sign of congressional dysfunction, the five-year farm bill brought to the floor and supported by Speaker John Boehner was defeated Thursday by a vote of 195 to 234.
Republicans accused the Democrats of last-minute trickery, and Democratic Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi belittled the entire episode as “amateur hour.” But beyond typical partisan finger-pointing, the farm bill’s defeat illustrated something that’s become just as common–the Republican leadership’s inability to settle their party’s ongoing civil war.
“House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and Speaker John Boehner simply fell on their faces on this one,” said The Rachel Maddow Show’s Steve Benen on msnbc Friday. “I think it’s fair to say that the GOP leadership is struggling and has struggled consistently with their ability to lead and govern.”
In a stunning miscalculation, Speaker Boehner put the legislation to a vote, confident it would pass the Republican-controlled House. The bill included $20.5 billion in cuts over the next ten years from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), better known as food stamps. A last-minute amendment from Republican Rep. Steve Southerland that would have applied federal welfare work requirements to food stamp programs drove away 16 of the expected 40 Democratic “yea” votes. That came on top of another Republican amendment pushed through Wednesday to authorize state drug testing of food stamp applicants.
But even if those 16 Democrats had voted in favor, the bill still would have failed to get a simple majority. Republican leaders’ move to include the provision was likely a political bone thrown to the caucus’ conservative faction in exchange for a vote on final passage. But that’s not how it went down. Sixty-one Republicans voted for the Southerland amendment but still voted against the bill. In all, 62 Republicans voted against the legislation.
“It’s interesting to note that 61 Republican members voted for the most draconian cuts to the SNAP program,” said Democratic Rep. Rosa DeLauro on msnbc Friday. “The same 61 voted against the bill. So in that respect, this bill didn’t go far enough for them in terms of cuts they wanted to make.”
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor blasted the Democrats for the bill’s defeat, saying in a statement that he was “extremely disappointed” in Pelosi and the Democratic leaders for choosing to “derail years of bipartisan work of the Farm Bill and related reforms.”
And House GOP leadership aides said that the Democrats “came at the last minute and decided to play tricks.”
But Pelosi fired back, calling the GOP’s tactics ”juvenile,” “sad,” “silly,” and “amateur hour.”
The Senate farm bill passed the chamber earlier this month with overwhelming bipartisan support on a 66-27 vote. The failed House bill was supposed to be a vehicle to go to conference with Senate Democrats, but now there’s no clear path forward. The debacle also does not bode well for the really divisive votes on the horizon: immigration reform and the budget.
“Rural communities and families relying on nutrition assistance should not be held hostage to Republican incompetence,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in a statement. “It’s time for Speaker Boehner to take the same approach that has proven successful in the past, and allow the House to pass the bipartisan work of the Senate.”
NBC News’ Frank Thorp V and Luke Russert contributed to this report.