Pelosi slams GOP 'amateur hour' on handling farm bill

Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Thursday blamed Republicans for sinking the farm bill, saying GOP leaders simply failed to rally enough majority-party support to send the bill to the Senate.

“The Republicans have the majority of Congress and it's their responsibility to send a bill,” Pelosi said shortly after the vote. “What [was] happening on the floor today was a demonstration of major amateur hour. They didn't get results and they put the blame on somebody else.”

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The House shot down the five-year, $940 billion farm bill in a 195-234 vote, with just 24 Democrats supporting the measure and 62 Republicans opposing it. GOP leaders said afterwards that Democrats had promised to deliver 40 votes but reneged — an assertion Pelosi rejected outright.

“Absolutely not,” she said of that claim. “I never had any conversations with them about a number of votes, and they knew that if they lost more than 40 or 50 votes it was not a good thing for them.”

Although many Democrats were poised to oppose the package over steep cuts to the food stamp program, Pelosi suggested there was enough support in her party to send the underlying bill to the Senate — until GOP leaders doomed the proposal with a pair of conservative amendments they knew would scare Democrats from the final package.

“Enough [Democratic] members were ready to support the bill that came out of committee, even though they didn't like it, as long as it didn't get worse on the floor,” Pelosi said. “That was the responsibility of the majority.”

The first controversial amendment, championed by Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), would eliminate government production limits on dairy processors. The second, sponsored Rep. Steve Southerland (R-Fla.), would empower states to require food stamp beneficiaries to seek work while on the program.

“They put two seeds of their own destruction in the bill,” Pelosi charged.

Pelosi noted that 61 Republicans voted for the Southerland amendment, then voted against the final bill. She questioned why GOP leaders allowed a vote on an amendment that posed such a threat to the overall package.

“It's a stunning thing,” she said. “Why would you give people an amendment that's going to kill your bill?”

GOP leaders view the outcome much differently. They say Democrats were well aware that at least one of those amendments — the Southerland amendment — was coming up for a vote and would likely pass.

Michael Conaway (R-Texas), chairman of the House Agriculture Committee’s subpanel on Farm Commodities and Risk Management, said Democrats “torpedoed" the bill "because they couldn’t accept a 2 percent cut in food stamps." And Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said Pelosi and other leaders chose “to derail years of bipartisan work” by deciding to oppose the package “at the last minute.”

Rep. Collin Peterson (Minn.), senior Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee and a supporter of the final bill, said that, after the two GOP amendments were added, neither he nor Pelosi did much whipping on the final package.

“[Pelosi] and I were not pushing people,” Peterson said. “I basically [told] people, at this point, you know, vote your district, vote what you think your people back home want.”

Peterson said he'd warned GOP leaders not to offer the Southerland amendment — particularly so close to the final vote — for fear that it would sink the whole package.

Peterson said a handful of Democrats dropped their support after Boehner's dairy amendment passed, but that the Southerland amendment was “the straw” that broke the back of Democratic support.

“We were over 40 and we ended up ... at 24,” he said.

Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) called the GOP's handling of the bill “pathetic.”

“If Leader Pelosi were Speaker Pelosi this would never have happened,” Van Hollen said, “because Speaker Pelosi knew how to govern. She understood that getting things done is the art of compromise, it's the art of bringing people together.”