Agriculture spending bill narrowly passes House after GOP whipping

The House on Thursday narrowly approved a 2012 Agriculture spending bill in a vote that tested Republican unity. 

Members in the chamber stopped to watch as the vote tally settled at 217-203 in favor of the third fiscal 2012 appropriations bill to be considered in the House this year. 

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During a two-hour series of votes on amendments, members of the GOP leadership team, including Majority Leader Eric Cantor (Va.), Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) and Chief Deputy Whip Peter Roskam (Ill.) scrambled around the chamber to persuade on-the-fence Republicans to vote yes.

Nineteen Republicans joined every Democrat in opposing the bill, including one of the two freshman representatives on the GOP leadership team, Rep. Kristi Noem (S.D.).

As she exited the House chamber, Noem told one colleague, “It’s going to be an ugly appropriations season.” 

Other Republicans who rejected the bill included Reps. Justin Amash (Mich.), Michele Bachmann (Minn.), Joe Barton (Texas), Jeff Flake (Ariz.), Steve King (Iowa), Ron Paul (Texas) and David Schweikert (Ariz.). 

Throughout the two full days of debate, members offered various amendments to cut Agriculture spending by more than the $2.7 billion in discretionary cuts already included in the measure. 

Most of the additional cuts proposed by Republicans were rejected in roll-call votes. Members overwhelmingly turned away a GOP proposal to cut discretionary spending by 5 percent or more, as well as attempts to limit farm-subsidy payments.

A number of policy riders were attached to the funding bill, including a provision that opponents argued would incite a trade war. 

In a vote of 223-197, the House approved Democratic Rep. Ron Kind’s (Wis.) amendment to prohibit World Trade Organization-directed funds to the Brazil Cotton Institute. 

GOP leaders had to assure members of the conference, including a key member of the GOP deputy whip team, that the issue would be revisited as the bill moves to conference. 

Deputy Whip Mike Conaway (R-Texas)“reluctantly” supported the final bill, as a result of those assurances. 

“I have grave concerns with a provision adopted on the House floor that could incite a retaliatory trade war between Brazil and the United States. That is and has been one of my main arguments against attempts to craft farm policy through amendments on inappropriate legislative vehicles on the House floor. This is how serious mistakes are made, and one was committed today,” Conaway said in a statement late Thursday. 

Other riders attached to the spending bill included provisions to prohibit funding from implementing an Agriculture Department “Policy Statement on Climate Change Adaptation,” construction of ethanol blender pumps and anything related to the so-called abortion pill RU-486. 

In its final form, the bill would fund many discretionary programs at levels far below those sought by the Obama administration, which made for several hours of tense debate in the House.

One of the biggest concerns Democrats had with the bill was the more than $600 million offered in cuts to the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) nutrition program. These cuts largely remained intact, despite Democratic attempts on Tuesday to argue the funding should be restored.

Republicans countered that the Department of Agriculture has other means of funding the program should enrollment increase, and noted that enrollment has been falling.

Also surviving was a $30 million cut to the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, which Democrats said would make it harder for that agency to fight against commodity price increases through speculation.

House Financial Services Committee ranking member Barney Frank (D-Mass.) argued unsuccessfully earlier this week to restore this funding.

On Wednesday, the House rejected several amendments from Rep. Paul Broun (R-Ga.) to cut the Food for Peace program and the International Food for Education and Child Nutrition program, and make further cuts to WIC.