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Published July 08, 2013, 10:03 AM

Amendments stall farm bill

Democrats in the U.S. House say Republicans’ last-minute amendments poisoned the well and led to the farm bill’s demise.

By: Grand Forks Herald, Grand Forks Herald

Democrats in the U.S. House say Republicans’ last-minute amendments poisoned the well and led to the farm bill’s demise.

Republicans say the Democrats knew the amendments were coming but failed to deliver a promised 40 votes.

Who’s right?

There’s one way to find out.

The amendments in question should be stripped, and the streamlined House bill should be brought back to the floor for a vote.

That’s one way to learn whether Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., is right when he says that if it were not for two key and 11th-hour amendments, Democrats would have delivered the 40 votes.

Interestingly, Peterson is willing to put his promise to the test. The ranking Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee said the “bill still could pass if brought back to the House minus Republican amendments,” reported Don Davis of Forum News Service.

Are Republicans willing to do the same?

Important legislation

Here’s hoping the answer is yes. After all, America needs the farm bill — a program that has helped rural America stay energetic and productive and should be celebrated, not reviled, for this success.

Both sides engaged in the blame game in the wake of the farm bill’s surprising defeat. But the Democrats’ claim that the two amendments were a poison pill — possibly offered by conservative Republicans for the express purpose of killing the bill — better explains the sequence of events.

For one thing, bipartisan support is a fragile thing, especially in today’s Washington. The bill that emerged from the House Agriculture Committee had it; but once the bill grew unbalanced from party-line amendments, then

Democrats who were on the fence about the bill understandably climbed off.

For another, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi had warned about that prospect in the days before the vote. “If they change it on the floor, then all bets are off,” Pelosi told The Nation magazine.

Then there’s the fact that the chairman of the House Agriculture Committee —

Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Okla. — himself had cautioned House leaders about the amendments. One of the changes “toughened work requirements for those receiving (food stamp) benefits,” Politico.com reported.

“Time and again Lucas balked warning that this would destroy his chances to win Democratic support.”

Then there’s this, also from Politico.com:

“Among the 62 House Republicans voting against the farm bill ... , all but one had voted minutes before for a controversial food-stamp amendment that undercut Democratic support for passage.”

In other words, the members helped insert a deal-killing provision into the bill — a bill they had no intention of voting for.

Sounds like a poison pill to us.

Try again

In any event, Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., and other House Republicans from farm states now should call for the stripping of the amendments and a vote on the streamlined bill.

Sen. Mike Johanns, R-Neb., and a former secretary of agriculture, put it best when he spoke about the farm bill that passed the Senate: “This bill would not be a perfect piece of legislation. It’s not the farm bill I would have necessarily written. But the conclusion I reached is that it is far better than no farm bill at all.”

That’s lawmaking in a nutshell, and Cramer should do his part to make it happen.

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