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US House OKs farm bill but says no to hardline immigration measure

Author: Marianne Goodland - June 21, 2018 - Updated: June 21, 2018

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The U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday voted narrowly to approve a bill that extends farm programs overseen by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, but rejected a hard-line Republican-sponsored bill on immigration reform — a pair of votes that conservatives had insisted should be taken side by side.

The vote of 213 to 211 on H.R. 2 — the Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 2018 — included a “yes” vote from Rep. Ken Buck of Greeley, a member of the House’s Freedom Caucus.

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U.S. Rep. Ken Buck, R-Windsor. (Photo courtesy of the congressman’s office)

Thirty Republicans had voted against the farm bill on May 18, including at least 15 known members of the Freedom Caucus, which includes the House’s most conservative members. That was enough to kill the bill, which failed 198 to 213.

Buck didn’t vote on May 18 as he was in Colorado that day. Freedom Caucus members said they would not back another vote on the farm bill until they got assurances the House would vote on a conservative immigration-reform measure.

They got their wish on Thursday, although not with the results they may have wanted.

The other three Republicans in Colorado’s House delegation — Reps. Mike Coffman of Aurora, Doug Lamborn of Colorado Springs and Scott Tipton of Cortez — also voted in favor of the farm bill. The three Democrats — Reps. Diana DeGette of Denver, Ed Perlmutter of Arvada and Jared Polis of Boulder — all voted no.

The House version of the farm bill approved on Thursday is unchanged from the version rejected last month, and that could spell trouble for a final compromise with the U.S. Senate.

As voted on Thursday, the House farm bill includes major changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps. The Trump administration had demanded changes to the work requirements under SNAP. One would require able-bodied adults ages 18 to 59 and who have children aged six and older to work at least 20 hours per week. The current law cuts off the age requirement at 49 years. Under the bill, in 2026, that work requirement would increase to 25 hours per week.

The Congressional Budget Office said the changes would result in 1.2 million fewer people on the program.

A second requirement would cut off SNAP benefits to people whose income is more than 130 percent of poverty, down from the 200 percent level. About 400,000 households would lose food stamps under that change.

And it’s those two changes that likely will make the bill untenable in the Senate. Last week, a Senate committee on agriculture began working on that chamber’s version, and neither of those major changes from the House version is included.

The Senate must reach a 60-vote threshold, meaning a minimum of nine Democrats would have to support the Senate version, and Democrats have held fast against the House work requirement provisions.

Despite its poor chances of getting into the Senate version, Tipton issued a statement Thursday in support of the work requirement changes.

“In addition to maintaining support for America’s farmers, this year’s Farm Bill will bring much-needed reforms to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP),” he said. “Today, SNAP traps too many American families in a cycle of poverty. The Farm Bill will set more individuals and families up for success by instituting a 20-hour-per-week work requirement for able-bodied SNAP recipients ages 18-59, with exceptions made for the elderly, individuals with disabilities, women who are pregnant, and for individuals who are the primary caregiver of a child 6 years old or under.

” … These changes to the program will help reverse the alarming trends we have seen in SNAP and give people the tools and resources they need to create a better life for themselves and their families,” Tipton added.

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, center, visits with Westcliffe ranch owner Elvin Parker Ganschow, left, and Amber Strohauer of Strohauer Farms near Greeley, while touring the FoodMaven facility in Colorado Springs on May 15, 2018. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)

Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue said in a statement after the vote that “American producers have greatly benefited from the policies of the Trump Administration, including tax reforms and reductions in regulations, however, a Farm Bill is still critically important to give the agriculture community some much-needed reassurance.”

The vote on the Farm Bill came just minutes after the House wrapped up action on the first of at least two expected votes on immigration reform.

The House vote 193 to 231 to reject a bill sponsored by Rep. Bob Goodlatte  (R-Virginia) that Democrats called too extreme.

Colorado Republicans Buck, Lamborn and Tipton all voted in favor. Voting against were Republican Mike Coffman of Aurora, who backs a more moderate bill, and the state delegation’s three Democrats.

The bill — known as Securing America’s Future Act — would have eliminated the so-called “green card” program, including chain migration, which allows family members other than spouses to come into the United States; reduced legal immigration from about 1 million per year to 260,000; made the E-Verify system to check legal status mandatory for employers, and put $25 billion toward a border wall. It also would have provided those in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program with a three-year renewable legal status.

The House is expected to vote on another immigration bill on Friday. It’s known as a compromise bill, but it’s a compromise backed by the House’s Republican leadership. It’s also not expected to succeed.

During Thursday’s debate, House Republicans said they were not sure whether President Trump would back the second bill, because they claimed it would provide legal amnesty to 700,000 young people in DACA. As introduced earlier this week, the bill also would put $130 billion into a border wall, a key campaign promise by the president. But groups such as the conservative Heritage Foundation say that is too much to be “fiscally prudent.”

In a statement Thursday, Polis — a candidate for governor — blasted both bills.

“Children and families who are seeking refuge should not be used as political pawns,” Polis said. “Many Republicans and Democrats stand ready with bipartisan solutions for dreamers, asylum-seeking families, and children.”

Marianne Goodland

Marianne Goodland

Marianne Goodland is the chief legislative reporter for Colorado Politics. She's covered the Colorado General Assembly for 20 years, starting off in 1998 with the Silver & Gold Record, the editorially-independent newspaper at CU that was shuttered in 2009. She also writes for six rural newspapers in northeastern Colorado. Marianne specializes in rural issues, agriculture, water and, during election season, campaign finance. In her free time (ha!) she lives in Lakewood with her husband, Jeff; a cantankerous Shih-Tzu named Sophie; and Gunther the cat. She is also an award-winning professional harpist.