Tensions flared in the House of Representatives on Friday morning as Republicans failed to pass an $847 billion farm bill, highlighting the rising contentiousness between party leadership and conservative coalitions.
The bill provided a further 5 years of funding for GOP-leaning farming interests while imposing mandates requiring healthy recipients of food assistance to spend time searching for jobs, getting training, and volunteering. It was defeated 198 to 213 when 30 Republicans – many of them members of the Freedom Caucus – sided with House Democrats, all of whom voted against the bill.
The vote came after Republican leaders spent days in talks with conservatives in an effort to pass the bill without Democrat assistance. Disputes over the amount of spending on the Supplemental Nutritional Program (SNAP) included in the bill, as well as a guaranteed future vote on Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte’s (R-VA) immigration bill, eventually led to the bill’s defeat and to each side pointing fingers at the other.
House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows, R-N.C., cited the bill’s excessive spending on unrelated items:
“You know, 76 percent of this farm bill has nothing to do with farms,” Meadows said in a recent appearance on C-SPAN. “When you look at that, 24 percent of it actually is about farms and supporting our farmers.”
(As an aside, it is worth noting here that farm bills typically include funding for non-farming related expenditures, such as trade, rural development, food and nutrition programs, marketing, etc., to attract support from urban lawmakers.)
Republican Oklahoma Representative Tom Cole, on the other hand, placed blame on colleagues who withdrew their support over satisfactory guarantees on the Goodlatte bill:
“You don’t hold one thing hostage for something that’s totally different and has nothing to do with it,” Mr. Cole said, adding, “At some point, you either trust your leaders or you don’t.”
The Hill reported on Thursday that House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), who controls the floor schedule, said that he has already assured Freedom Caucus members that the legislation from Reps. Bob Goodlatte and Michael McCaul (R-TX) will reach the House floor.
“I’ve already told them we’re going to give them a vote on Goodlatte, so I don’t understand the difficulty,” McCarthy said.
Republican leaders had arranged for a vote on the immigration measures in June, but many hardliners in the House wanted stronger guarantees; House Speaker Paul Ryan said he refused to be “held hostage” by them, according to The New York Times.
White House Deputy Press Secretary Lindsay Walters conveyed President Trump’s dismay over the vote in a statement on Friday:
President Donald J. Trump is disappointed in the result of today’s vote in the House of Representatives on the Farm bill, and hopes the House can resolve any remaining issues in order to achieve strong work requirements and support our Nation’s agricultural community. The Administration underscores the need to bring certainty to our farmers and ranchers and to the many Americans receiving food assistance, and will continue to work with Congress to pass a Farm bill on time.
NPR explains that lawmakers in the House will have until the existing farm bill expires on September 30 to reach an agreement, also pointing out that Friday’s bill was unlikely to survive in the Senate regardless:
Support or no, this version of the bill would have been dead on arrival in the Senate, where Democrats have more sway.
“Regardless of what happens in the House, and I hope they can get something passed, the Senate is working toward a bipartisan bill because we have to get 60 votes,” Roberts said prior to the vote.
Meadows sought to downplay the bill’s failure, according to AP News, stressing that “it’s not a fatal blow. It’s just a reorganizing.”
Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL), however, sees things differently, accusing House conservatives of playing into the Democrats’ hands. “Nancy Pelosi and her allies just won a big victory,” he said.
Why It Matters
Midterms, midterms, midterms.
Republican leaders spent well into Thursday night trying to secure enough votes for this bill to pass and still came up short, laying bare the division that permeates the GOP.
House deputy whip Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-NC, said he didn’t realize the farm bill would still be short on votes until he arrived on the floor Friday morning. House Speaker Paul Ryan also emerges from the vote looking unable to control the mounting disarray in which his party finds itself. President Donald Trump even tweeted his support for the bill Thursday evening before the vote’s failure:
Tomorrow, the House will vote on a strong Farm Bill, which includes work requirements. We must support our Nation’s great farmers!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 17, 2018
This lack of cohesive leadership in the House paints an unflattering picture of Republicans in the eyes of American voters in the face of an already-heated midterm season.
And Democrats have taken note. Per the AP’s report, Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD) pointed to the intraparty dysfunction under the Republican Congress as one reason why why voters in November “are going to give us their jobs.”
Additionally, the bill’s unceremonious collapse has the potential to spur House Republicans frustrated with the Freedom Caucus to sign the so-called Queen of the Hill discharge petition currently on file in the House, which would force votes on four separate immigration bills, some of which, according to The Hill, are backed by Democrats:
The proposals in Denham’s Queen of the Hill rule are a conservative bill proposed by Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) that would grant temporary status to so-called Dreamers while imposing a series of restrictive measures on legal and illegal immigration; the Dream Act, which would grant a path to citizenship to at least 1.8 million Dreamers; the USA Act, a bipartisan compromise that would pair Dream Act-like measures with $25 billion in border security; and an open slot for Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) to propose an immigration bill of his choosing.
As things now stand, the Democrats have held off on endorsing the petition to first see if it would garner the 25 Republican signatures necessary to garner a majority of House support. However, with 20 Republicans on board as of Friday evening, Democrat leadership is beginning to make its move.
“Members are strongly urged to sign the Curbelo Queen-of-the-Hill discharge petition on the House Floor, which is available for signatures immediately,” reads a whip notice sent out to the Democratic Caucus by its leaders Thursday, The Hill reports.
The bottom line here is that voting on principle against excessive government spending is admirable, and leadership asserting dominance over willful factions is even sometimes necessary. But showboating for political gain shortly before midterms is neither of these. House Republicans would do well to remember this; otherwise, massive spending bills or untimely immigration votes could soon become the least of their worries.