Both parties were dramatically divided on the proposal. The issue split Republicans 105-126, and it split Democrats 98-94.
Royce recounted one shipment that took two years to arrive, and said this is a sign of a broken delivery system.
"This is about fixing a broken system," he said. "Our food aid takes too long to arrive and costs too much to get there."
Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), a vocal advocate in the House for anti-hunger efforts, said he supported the amendment because it would give the U.S. more flexibility. "It expands U.S. options in responding to crises, it reaches more people for the same amount of dollars, and it continues the engagement of U.S. producers and shippers in alleviating global hunger," he said.
Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), the lead Democratic sponsor of the amendment, agreed and said changing the program would help save money and allow up to four million other people to receive aid.
But many others recoiled at the idea of allowing so much funding to buy non-U.S. commodities.
"This program is meant to help folks who need food," Rep. Mike Conaway (R-Texas) said. "There's no better producer, no cheaper producer than the American farmer."
Others said buying fewer U.S. commodities would hurt U.S. shipping interests because there would be less demand to ship U.S. goods overseas.
And, some said giving away more cash under the program could lead to more corruption. Rep. Rob Andrews (D-N.J.) said that money is fungible, while food is not.
"The possibility of corruption occurring, not because of the good-faith NGOs but because of some of the forces at work in the countries we're talking about, is a problem," he said.
Several other amendments to the farm bill received roll call votes on Wednesday evening, from:
— Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.), capping spending on the Farm Risk Management Election program at 110 percent of the CBO-predicted levels of spending for the first five years. Passed 276-156.
— Paul Broun (R-Ga.), repealing federal price supports for dairy. Failed 112-309.
— Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), requiring 20 percent of the acreage in the Conservation Reserve Program to be set aside for the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program and the Continuous Conservation Reserve Program. Failed 17-242.
— Blumenauer, reforming the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) to increase access for farmers and end payments to projects that do not show significant conservation benefits. Failed 157-266.
— Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio.), improving coordination among various federal agencies on the decline of bees in the United States and promoting the viability of bees. Passed 273-149.
— Steve Chabot (R-Ohio), repeals the Market Access Program for marketing U.S. agricultural commodities. Failed 98-322.