WASHINGTON – DFL Gov. Mark Dayton along with his Republican counterparts in North Dakota and South Dakota pressed Republican leaders of the U.S. House to make another attempt to pass the farm bill, joining a growing chorus pressuring the House GOP to act.
In a letter sent to House Speaker John Boehner and other top Republicans, the trio urged Congress “to get back to work” on reauthorizing the five year bill that covers both agricultural and nutrition programs. The bill was unexpectedly defeated on the House floor last month by a coalition of conservative, tea party-aligned lawmakers, including 6th District U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann and most of the chamber’s Democrats, including U.S. Reps. Keith Ellison, Betty McCollum and Rick Nolan.
“There is no time for further delays because the nation’s farmers and ranchers need these policies finalized in order to make sound business decisions and to bring stability to the entire agriculture industry,” wrote the governors.
The core issue that sank the bill concerned the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), also known as food stamps. The House bill made $20.5 billion in cuts to the program over the next decade by tightening eligibility rules. Those cuts were unacceptable to most Democrats, who characterized them as draconian, while also being unacceptably small to many Republicans who argue SNAP’s costs have skyrocketed since the 2008 economic crisis. Ultimately, 62 Republicans were joined by 24 Democrats to deny the farm bill a majority.
Republicans, led by Majority Leader Eric Cantor, have now proposed splitting the bill into two. They may attempt to hold a vote on the portion of the legislation that covers agriculture, conservation and rural development as early as this week. Doing so would break a four decade-long alliance between urban and rural lawmakers that has been needed to pass farm bills in the past. A Republican aide said Tuesday afternoon that such a strategy would still likely face difficulty getting enough GOP votes to pass.
The governors’ letter is one of many appealing to GOP leaders on Capitol Hill in recent days. Last week, a broad coalition of more than 530 farm, nutrition and environmental groups sent a strongly worded letter asking Republicans to keep the nutrition and agriculture components of the bill together.