WASHINGTON (CNN) — House Republicans stripped food stamp provisions opposed by conservatives and narrowly passed scaled back legislation on Thursday to overhaul the nation’s farm programs.
Democrats chastised the GOP for ignoring initiatives they argue poor Americans need to keep from going hungry.
The vote was 216-208 and no Democrat voted for it. Twelve Republicans opposed the bill.
Debate on the floor was raucous and Democrats several times angrily screamed at Republicans and accused them of dismissing the needs of low income Americans.
“You have removed food stamps … from this legislation. I don’t know where it is going to go. It looks like it is going to die a slow death. It is despicable. What is it about poor people that you don’t like?” North Carolina Democratic Rep G.K. Butterfield said to House Republicans.
Democrats decried the decision to discard a bipartisan framework and instead move forward with a vote only on sections of the bill focused on farm supports.
Republicans pledged a vote at a later time on legislation focused on nutrition and the food stamp program, which is the largest domestic safety net against hunger.
Food stamps cover more than 47 million people, nearly half children, according to the Agriculture Department.
But escalating costs are a problem for conservatives as has been the program’s continued expansion under the Bush and Obama administrations.
The food stamp and nutrition program costs roughly $78 billion annually with participation rising sharply in recent years partly due to recession and the sluggish economic recovery marked by high unemployment.
Food stamps account for much of the farm bill’s overall cost.
Many Republicans from rural states argued it was important now for Congress to address agricultural programs because farmers needed to plan.
“Farms and families in this country need the certainty of this agricultural policy and I ask that you support the bill,” Georgia Republican Rep Austin Scott said.
The legislation overhauls federal agricultural policy by consolidating a number of farm programs and ending direct payments to farmers while expanding crop insurance provisions.
The Senate passed farm legislation last month that included the food stamp program and some lawmakers pointed out that House-Senate negotiations to craft a compromise could still include the initiative in a final package.
But Democrats said there was no guarantee the House would ever vote on food stamps as part of farm legislation, and suggested GOP leaders lured support from conservatives for Thursday’s vote by also promising to make deep cuts to nutrition programs in the future.
The White House issued a veto threat on the new Republican version of the bill on Wednesday.
For decades farm bills have been approved by Congress with fairly significant bipartisan support because they include both agricultural programs backed by those representing rural districts and nutrition assistance programs supported by those in urban areas.
But a bipartisan alliance fell apart in the House, which defeated a previous version of the farm bill last month. Democrats then said proposed cuts were too severe and also protested additional work requirements for nutrition assistance programs. Republicans voted against the measure because they argued food stamp cuts weren’t steep enough.
GOP leaders scrambled to find a strategy that would get farm legislation through before rural state members go home next month and have to face disappointed farm communities. Splitting the measure in two pieces was the way to set aside conservatives concerns.
Republican Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas said he couldn’t guarantee that a nutrition-only package could pass the House, but he pledged to Democrats he would work with them to ensure those programs continued and were funded.
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