WASHINGTON — A major overhaul of federal farm and nutrition programs was rejected in the House last week as lawmakers divided on proposed cuts to food stamps.
The bill included an estimated $20.5 billion in reductions to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly known as food stamps, that helps low-income families pay for food.
Many Democrats complained that the proposed changes to food stamps would throw two million Americans off the program. A significant number of Republicans argued for deeper cuts noting that the program had grown substantially over the last five years.
Federal spending on SNAP increased from $37.6 billion in 2008 to $78.4 billion in 2012 as participation rose from 28.2 million to 46.6 million Americans, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Defeat of the legislation came as a surprise to House Republican leaders, who had anticipated that it would advance. The final vote was 195-234 with 62 Republicans joining 172 Democrats opposing.
The bill would have authorized $940 billion in spending over the next decade – about $44 billion less than would be spent under current law. Aside from the food stamp reforms, the bill would have eliminated direct payments to farmers while increasing assistance for crop insurance programs.
Reps. Tom Cole, R-Moore, James Lankford, R-Edmond, Frank Lucas, R-Cheyenne, and Markwayne Mullin, R-Westville, voted for it. Rep. Jim Bridenstine, R-Tulsa, opposed it.
House holds symbolic
The House approved a bill that would make most abortions illegal after 20 weeks of conception, or about a month sooner than now allowed.
Proponents of the bill argued in favor of the change saying that the fetus can feel pain after 20 weeks. Opponents argued that the proposal was unconstitutional and that it would disregard the laws in most states that allow abortions through the first 24 weeks of pregnancy.
The vote was largely symbolic because the White House has issued a veto threat and the Democrat-controlled Senate has no plan to consider it.
The bill was approved, 228-196.
Bridenstine, Cole, Lankford, Lucas and Mullin voted for it.
Immigration debate in Senate
The Senate continued debate on sweeping immigration reforms on the floor last week as negotiations took place off the floor to draw broader support from Republicans concerned with border security.
A vote is scheduled for Monday on a bipartisan amendment that came out of those private negotiations, which would double the size of the border patrol and provide additional fencing and high-tech protections along the Mexican border.
The Senate, meanwhile, rejected a separate measure offered by Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas. His proposal would have required the southwestern border to be secured before undocumented immigrants could receive legal status.
"We have now had three decades to fix our broken promises on border security and now is the time to demand real results and to create a mechanism for achieving them," Cornyn said.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., argued against Cornyn’s amendment saying it was offered as a "poison pill" to thwart immigration reform.
The Senate voted 54-43 to table Cornyn’s amendment – effectively blocking it from being considered.
Sens. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., and James Inhofe, R-Okla., voted in support of Cornyn’s amendment.