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House Roll Call: 353     Vote Date: Jul 11th, 2013

Issue: H.R. 2642 Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act of 2013 (Farm Bill). (Sponsor: Rep. Frank D. Lucas (OK-3).)

Result: Passed in House, 216 to 208, 11 not voting. (Ultimately rejected by the Senate after a couple of back and forth House-Senate votes, each chamber insisting on its version.) Republicans scored.

Bill Summary: This massive, complex measure would set agriculture, food, conservation, and forestry policy for the federal government for 5 years.

H.R. 2642 is very similar to H.R. 1947, which was defeated by the House on June 20. The principal difference is that to win more GOP conservative support the new bill separated out the food stamp program and replaced the permanent default for farm support programs.

Analysis: In June, House leaders were surprised when their “farm bill,” H.R. 1947 was defeated (195 to 234) due to opposition from conservatives who wanted further cuts and Democrats who objected to the cuts in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), more commonly referred to as “food stamps” (see Roll Call 286, June 20, 2013).

So on July 11, House leaders brought this new version to a vote. To win conservative support, the new version separated out the food stamp (SNAP) program and replaced the permanent default farm support programs. Otherwise, the new version was essentially the old version, with no further cuts or reforms. Floor amendments were not allowed.

The new version squeaked by 216 to 208. All 196 Democrats voted against the bill. Their opposition shows why evaluating Republicans and Democrats on the same roll call can sometimes be very misleading — when opposition is justified but one group’s opposition is for the wrong reason.

Only 12 Republicans, who were justifiably not satisfied, voted no: Justin Amash of Michigan, Paul Cook of California, Ron DeSantis of Florida, John J. Duncan Jr. of Tennessee, Trent Franks of Arizona, Phil Gingrey of Georgia, Tim Huelskamp of Kansas, Walter B. Jones of North Carolina, Frank A. LoBiondo of New Jersey, Tom McClintock of California, Matt Salmon of Arizona, and Mark Sanford of South Carolina.

Conservative opponents of the new farm bill warned that removing the food stamp program from the bill was just a ruse to get to a Senate conference and that the bill was “still loaded down with market-distorting giveaways to special interests with no path established to remove the government’s involvement in the agriculture industry.” Indeed, on July 18th the Senate amended the House bill by unanimous consent, in effect replacing it with its own version, and then immediately asked for a conference.

In the days leading up to the House vote, 21 prominent “conservative leaders” signed an open letter to John Boehner — a classic example of ignoring the tune to which political leaders are marching and looking mistakenly in Washington for a solution. The letter applauded Boehner for splitting the bill but implored him to bring the legislation to the floor under an open rule, which would allow amendments:

“The purpose of splitting the agriculture and nutrition pieces was to change the political dynamics that conspire to prevent true reform. If the House pushes through agriculture-only language taken directly from the combined bill that failed on the floor last month without amendment, it will not only fail to change those dynamics, it will actively preserve them.”

Removing the food stamps was Eric Cantor’s strategy for passing a farm bill without Democratic support. The separation allowed Republicans to vote for a farm bill without being blamed by conservatives opposed to food stamps.

A Divided Government?

According to the Washington, DC-based Roll Call (7-11-13), “Oklahoma Republican Tom Cole predicted that Republican members would support a measure coming back from conference, even if it had SNAP provisions. He said there was ‘no way’ the House could go into conference with a Democratic Senate and a Democratic president and end up with a Republican product. ‘You just hope that folks understand this is the nature of a divided government,’ Cole said.”

What does Cole mean, “divided government”? Sure, the Republicans have a majority in the House, and the Democrats control the Senate and the presidency. But the generally accepted notion that we have two parties competing to implement their different concepts of government is terribly misleading.

Instead, we have Republican collectivists and opportunists in limited competition with Democrat collectivists and opportunists. Each party appeals to a different core constituency with its rhetoric, but both offer socialism.

America would actually be a huge step forward if we truly had a divided government, with the House defending the Constitution. According to James Madison (see Federalist No. 58), “The House of Representatives cannot only refuse, but they alone can propose the supplies requisite for the support of government. They, in a word, hold the purse — that powerful instrument … [for reducing] … all the overgrown prerogatives of the other branches of government.”

So it’s a myth that the House cannot force a rollback of unconstitutional government on its own.   Of course, the House would never have the backbone to play hardball with the Senate and president unless representatives had informed pressure from back home. Building that informed pressure is the essential path for Americans to reestablish limited government.

Farm bill politics is far from the only example of how Americans are regularly deceived by a partisan professional wrestling match.   Congress regularly votes on measures that cannot possibly become law. The votes serve primarily to make supporting politicians look good before their constituents, while big government marches on.

Also see our analysis for the similar, but defeated June House bill (H.R. 1947, Roll Call 286, June 20, 2013).

We have assigned (good vote) to the Nays and (bad vote) to the Yeas. (P = voted present; ? = not voting; blank = not listed on roll call.)