House Republican leaders powered through a slimmed-down farm bill Thursday, dropping the food stamp program from the measure and leaving the rest of the bill, which maintains the farm subsidies system that props up American agriculture.
The 216-208 vote delivered a much-needed victory to Speaker John A. Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor, who saw their last version of the farm bill - which included the food stamp program, known as the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) - fail last month when conservatives said it was too generous and Democrats said it was too stingy.
Republican leaders still say the food stamp parts of the bill can be rescued either by passing a separate bill or by adding the provisions back in when the House meets to negotiate a final compromise with the Senate, which passed a farm bill containing both subsidy and food stamp language.
Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, Oklahoma Republican, pledged that his the committee will work in a bipartisan manner on the nutrition measures left out, but added that "I can't guarantee you what the product will look like coming out of the committee or across the floor."
Rep. Pete Sessions, Texas Republican and chairman of the Rules Committee, said splitting the bill "in no way seeks to marginalize the importance of the nutrition programs."
But Democrats said the message from House Republicans was clear.
"Mitt Romney was right — you don't care about the 47 percent," Rep. Corrine Brown, Florida Democrat, admonished them on the floor. "Shame on you!"
Funding for food stamps can still be continued through the annual spending bills, even without the farm bill's passage.
All of the Democrats present voted against the bill, as did 12 Republicans.
Mr. Cantor called the vote "a victory for farmers and conservatives who desired desperately needed reforms to these programs."
But Sen. Debbie Stabenow, Michigan Democrat and chairwoman of Senate agriculture committee, said the the bill is "an insult to rural America."
"We will go to conference with the bipartisan, comprehensive Farm Bill that was passed in the Senate that not only reforms programs, supports families in need and creates agriculture jobs, but also saves billions more than the extremely flawed House bill," she said.
The White House budget office also issued a veto threat for the bill Wednesday evening, citing the food stamp issue and saying the bill doesn't reform the commodity and crop insurance programs enough.
House members defeated the broad farm bill last month on a 234-195 vote after conservatives attached an amendment cutting food-stamp benefits by $2 billion a year — a move that turned off many urban Democrats but also failed to assuage conservative Republicans, who said the measure was still too bloated.
The new agriculture-only bill costs approximately $200 billion, according to the Congressional Budget Office. The original House bill was projected to cost $939 billion while reducing spending from current levels by $33.4 billion.
The CBO said the Senate bill would cost $955 billion over 10 years while cutting spending by nearly $18 billion.
Heritage Action and the Club for Growth are both opposed to the bill. Andy Roth, vice president of Government Affairs for the Club for Growth, sent a letter to congressional offices welcoming the split of the "unholy alliance" between agricultural policy and the food stamp program.
"However, the whole purpose of splitting up the bill is to enact true reform that reduces the size and scope of government," he wrote. "It is still loaded down with market-distorting giveaways to special interests with no path established to remove the government's involvement in the agriculture industry."
Democrats said Republicans were violating their own rules by introducing the 608-page bill on Wednesday and forcing a vote Thursday, despite the GOP's pledge to have bills available for three days before lawmakers are called to vote.
Mr. Boehner said Thursday he would have liked to have done things differently but said this bill is close to the previous bill that was defeated.
"And so we're in a situation where our members know what the bill is, and I don't believe that it violates either the rule or the spirit of the rule," he said.