House Agriculture approves farm bill with strong 35-11 vote

The House Agriculture Committee approved the 2012 farm bill early Thursday morning in a 35-11 vote. 

The strong vote — which took place just before 1 a.m. — on the $957 billion farm subsidy and nutrition measure was a major victory for Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) and ranking member Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Minn.), who had risked angering factions in their own parties to forge a compromise bill.

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Earlier in the marathon markup, which began at 10 a.m. Wednesday, conservatives and liberals had brawled over the $16.5 billion in cuts to food stamps in the bill.

Fifteen liberals had voted to eliminate the cuts while 13 conservatives had voted to double them. In the end, these 28 members did not band together to kill the compromise bill. Other major battles during the meeting ended with no changes to the sugar quota system or to the dairy price support system in the base bill.

The final 11 dissenters included both Democrats and Republicans. They were GOP Reps. Bob Goodlatte (Va.), Marlin Stutzman (Ind.), Bob Gibbs (Ohio) and Tim Huelskamp (Kan.); and Democratic Reps. Joe Baca (Calif.), David Scott (Ga.), Chellie Pingree (Maine), Joe Courtney (Conn.), Marcia Fudge (Ohio), Terri Sewell (Ala.) and James McGovern (Mass.).

Lucas said this week that he will immediately press for a full House floor vote and that he had hoped a strong bipartisan vote would convince reluctant GOP leaders to bring the farm bill to the floor. Farm programs expire after Sept. 30, and the Senate passed its bill last month. The House bill shaves $35 billion off the deficit, compared to $23 billion in deficit savings in the Senate bill. 

Late in the markup several important amendments were debated. Among these, an amendment by Rep. Steve King (D-Iowa) that aimed at stopping states from imposing restrictions on the means of production for farm goods sold via interstate commerce was adopted. King's amendment was provoked by potential restrictions on egg production, such as requiring larger cages for hens, in California.

Another amendment that was adopted repeals the Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyard Administration (GIPSA) provisions in the 2008 farm bill. Those provisions are meant to protect small farmers by forcing the Agriculture Department to implement new rules on meat and poultry buyers. The GIPSA provisions, which have resulted in draft USDA rules, are opposed by large agribusiness and packers. 

Another amendment supported by seafood importers to stop the Agriculture Department from setting up a catfish inspection program failed by a vote of 20-25. Supporters of the amendment say that the program is meant to keep Vietnamese imports out of the country to protect domestic producers and could provoke a trade war. The senate adopted a version of it in its farm bill.