Politics

GOP Helps Dems Kill Conservative Amendments to Farm Bill

Bipartisan votes in the House kill reform proposals to expand work requirements, cut subsidies, and mandate E-Verify

Lawmakers will vote Friday on a farm bill that has been vilified by Democrats as mean-spirited even as some conservatives grumble it’s a watered-down attempt at reform.

Thursday’s marathon debate on the floor of the House of Representatives offered plenty of ammunition for the latter view. Large bipartisan majorities shot down amendments to expand work requirements for able-bodied food stamp recipients, eliminate subsidies for farmers, and crack down on illegal immigration.

The bill headed for a final vote Friday requires that work-capable recipients who do not have children younger than six be employed at least 20 hours a week, attend classes, or participate in job-training programs.

It also narrows the ability of states to exempt large numbers of beneficiaries from work requirements, as many currently do. States would be able to exempt no more than 15 percent of the people who receive benefits from the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP), the formal name for the food stamp program.

On Thursday, Rep. Tom McClintock (R-Calif.) tried to reduce that to 5 percent. The amendment also would have exempted parents of children up to three years old, instead of six, and let married spouses stay home instead of work.

Finally, the amendment would have required training programs to use the E-Verify system to ensure that illegal immigrants cannot participate.

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The proposal failed on a 330-83 vote. A majority of House Republicans — 144 — joined 185 Democrats in killing the amendment.

Mark Meckler, president of the Tea Party group Citizens for Self-Governance, said the bill as it currently stands requires only about 20 percent of able-bodied food stamp recipients to work.

“What they’re doing is surface reform,” he said.

McClintock said during the debate that his amendment would transform an “empty and symbolic gesture” to require work by increasing the share of able-bodied adult food stamp recipients to whom the work requirement applies from 20 percent to 70 percent. He would do this, in part, by eliminating the ability of states to waive work requirements in high-income areas.

“It deletes the waiver for an important reason,” he said. “Where there is high unemployment, there’s also more reason to encourage job training and job searching in order to equip recipients to compete in tighter job markets. Sidelining these individuals is self-defeating both for them and for the local economies.”

McClintock also said that the bill as written includes what amounts to a “marriage penalty” because it treats married couples as if they were single with respect to the work requirement. His amendment would have applied the work requirement only to one parent, letting the other take care of the home and children.

“This recognizes, encourages and rewards marriage as the stable and nurturing environment that it is,” he said.

Finally, McClintock depicted his proposal to require E-Verify as a common-sense reform.

“This requirement’s essential to the enforcement of our immigration laws, for otherwise, we’re spending taxpayer money to train illegal immigrants, whom federal law prohibits from being employed.”

“This requirement’s essential to the enforcement of our immigration laws, for otherwise, we’re spending taxpayer money to train illegal immigrants, whom federal law prohibits from being employed,” he said.

That Democrats would oppose McClintock is hardly surprising. But it did not go over well with most Republicans, either.

Rep. Glenn Thompson (R-Pa.) said it was bad idea to exempt spouses.

“One spouse working 20 hours a week does not lead to self-sufficiency,” he said.

Thompson also criticized the proposed immigration-related safeguard.

“Requiring education-training providers to use E-Verify on all participants who depend on them for services is just plain cruel,” he said.

Said Rep. John Faso (R-N.Y.): “Lowering the age from six to three will make it much more difficult for many SNAP families to comply with the work requirements.”

The House defeated two proposals to eliminate agricultural subsidies. The vote was 380-34 to defeat an amendment by McClintock to phase out subsides. Lawmakers voted 278-137 against a separate proposal by Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.) targeting sugar subsidies. A majority of Republicans joined all but 41 Democrats.

Foxx said during the debate that other generous price supports had been eliminated over the years. She cited data from the International Trade Commission indicating that every sugar job protected costs three manufacturing jobs.

Related: How Obama and State Officials Swelled Food Stamp Rolls

“Only sugar is left with this sweet deal,” she said. “When the government gets into picking winners and losers, American jobs are at risk.”

But Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway (R-Texas) said Foxx’s proposal “denigrates the hardworking men and women, the farmers and ranchers … She couldn’t be more wrong or more disrespectful.”

Jason Pye, vice president of legislative affairs at FreedomWorks, said the farm bill is an “improvement of the status quo” but a disappointment nonetheless.

“It’s largely a missed opportunity to do something more significant,” he said.

PoliZette senior writer Brendan Kirby can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter.

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