By Chris Day
STILLWATER, Okla. —
Less than a week ago, U.S. Rep. Frank Lucas was optimistic the House would pass the five-year, half-trillion dollar farm bill this week.
Thursday, his optimism turned into a dark reality as the House rejected the bill 234-195.
“On this day, on this vote, the House worked its will,” the Oklahoma Republican said.
The vote disappointed, but won’t deter Lucas.
“The reforms in H.R. 1947 — $40 billion deficit reduction, elimination of direct payments and the first reforms to SNAP (food stamps) since 1996 — are so important that we must continue to pursue them,” Lucas said.
The committee is assessing options, and will soldier on, he said.
“I have no doubt that we will finish our work in the near future and provide the certainty that our farmers, ranchers and rural constituents need.”
Sixty-two Republicans voted against the farm bill. Many objected to the food stamp program that costs $80 billion a year and wanted stronger reforms.
Democrats rejected the bill, too. Only 24 voted for it. Democrats said the food stamp cuts were too deep and disliked a last-minute amendment that added optional state work requirements to the bill.
Lucas, the House agriculture committee chairman, told colleagues the bill was necessary to avoid a repeat of past farm crises, and contained some of the biggest reforms in years.
The bill would have saved nearly $4 billion annually.
Lucas pleaded for passage immediately before Thursday’s vote. Some conservatives believe the bill isn’t tough enough, while liberals say it will leave millions hungry when they are removed from the food stamp program, Lucas said.
“We are at this critical moment. Whether you believe the bill has too much reform or not enough or you believe it cuts too much or not enough, we have to move this document forward to achieve a common goal — to meet the needs of our citizens,” Lucas said.
He told the representatives he couldn’t guarantee another attempt to pass a farm bill this session.
The Senate passed its version of the farm bill last week. The House didn’t vote on a farm bill in 2012. It was never brought to a floor vote. Congress extended the 2008 farm bill through September. Another extension will be necessary if the House doesn’t pass a bill and the Senate and House versions can’t be reconciled.