The U.S. House finally got past tea party extremists to replace the 2008-12 farm bill, approving the legislation by a 251-to-166 vote Wednesday.
The hangup the last two years had been food stamps. The final House version makes deeper cuts to the nation’s food safety net than President Barack Obama and the Senate wanted, and more than might be warranted, given the sputtering economic recovery – especially in California. But the bill was a compromise, probably the best that could be gotten given the current makeup of the House. Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, deserves credit for getting a passable bill to the House floor.
The most conservative Republicans sought a $39 billion cut from food stamps from 2014 to 2023. The Senate proposed a $4 billion cut. Under the House compromise, the cut would be $8 billion. Some cuts are justified because the need, driven by the Great Recession, is diminishing as the economy recovers.
California has a big stake in this. A low-wage job supplemented with food stamps has been a lifesaver for many working people in these difficult times. And here in the Central Valley, with our 12-plus percent unemployment, such support has been critical for far too many families.
It is worth noting and applauding that it took a combination of Republicans and Democrats to pass this bill. There were no party-line votes. House Republicans supported it 162 to 63. House Democrats mostly opposed it because of the food stamp cuts, 89 to 103. Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco, to her credit, delivered enough Democrats for victory.
The California delegation made a group of strange bedfellows. Thirteen of 38 Democrats voted for the bill, including Doris Matsui, Ami Bera, John Garamendi, Mike Thompson, Jerry McNerney and Jim Costa. They joined eight of 15 Republicans, including Doug LaMalfa, Jeff Denham, David Valadao, Devin Nunes and Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy.
Californians voting against it, not surprisingly, included Tom McClintock, R-Elk Grove, who thought cuts weren’t deep enough, and Karen Bass, a Los Angeles Democrat, who thought the cuts were too deep.
There’s more to applaud in this bill. It did not include the controversial provision inserted by Iowa Rep. Steve King that would have set aside California’s restriction on importation of eggs laid by chickens in confining cages. That would have been a setback to California egg producers who have invested heavily in henhouses that provide more room for chickens and who are happy with the results. Such a provision could have far-ranging effects, striking down any attempt by a state to set standards that other states did not want to follow.
Specialty crop growers – of fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruit, nursery plants and other crops important to California – won a block grant program for research and marketing.
The bill also would provide a land safety net, to minimize the effects of floods, drought and erosion.
HR 2642 has much to like, and much still to fix. But the House showed that it can accomplish something, if it doesn’t let a vocal, uncompromising minority rule. It’s a good start.