WASHINGTON — The House of Representatives on Sept. 19, by a vote of 217 to 210, passed the Nutrition Reform and Work Opportunity Act (H.R. 3102), which would cut about $40 billion over 10 years from federal nutrition assistance programs. Democratic members of the House were united in opposition to the bill they asserted would remove 3.8 million Americans from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program in 2014. Fifteen Republicans also voted against the measure.
The bill fills the void left in the “farm-only” farm bill passed by the House before the August congressional recess. The revised Federal Agricultural Reform and Risk Management Act, which contained no nutrition title, was passed on a party-line vote on July 11. The initial version of FARRM, which proposed about $21 billion in nutrition program spending cuts over 10 years, was rejected a month earlier by the full House.
The original FARRM bill foundered because several conservative Republican members of the House voted against the measure because they thought it didn’t cut deeply enough into nutrition program spending, and Democrats opposed the legislation because they thought the cuts proposed were too severe. Democrats who objected to the extent of the nutrition cuts but who were prepared to vote for FARRM to move a farm bill into conference with the Senate, withdrew their support just ahead of the vote because of amendments that would have imposed restrictions or requirements on recipients of benefits under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) Democrats viewed as excessive or demeaning.
The House leadership has held back from naming members to negotiate with the Senate on crafting a common farm bill that would be referred back to both houses of Congress for a final vote. The leaders first wanted House action on the nutrition bill and were expected to include this measure in any farm bill conference with the Senate.
The original FARRM bill as passed by the House agriculture committee but rejected by the full House had proposed about $21 billion in cuts to federal nutrition programs, whereas the Senate’s farm bill, the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act, proposed cuts of about $4 billion. So, H.R. 3102 would nearly double the cuts proposed in the original FARRM bill and would exact spending reductions 10 times greater than those agreed by the Senate in its farm bill.
Senator Debbie Stabenow, chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry said, “We have never before seen this kind of partisanship injected into a Farm Bill. Not only does this House bill represent a shameful attempt to kick millions of families in need off of food assistance, it’s also a monumental waste of time. The bill will never pass the Senate, and will never be signed by the president.
“The good news is now that this vote is behind us, we are close to the finish line. If House Republican leaders drop the divisive issues, appoint conferees and work with us in a bipartisan way, we can finalize a farm bill that creates jobs, reforms agriculture policy, and reduces the deficit by tens of billions of dollars. It’s time to get a comprehensive farm bill done to give farmers and ranchers the certainty they need to continue growing the economy.”