Much to the chagrin of Democrats, the House of Representatives voted today down partisan lines to approve a farm bill, which was separated from a comprehensive version of legislation that initially included hundreds of billions of dollars for food stamps.
In a vote that was filled with drama, the bill narrowly passed 216-208, with zero Democrats supporting passage. Twelve Republicans also opposed the bill.
House Speaker John Boehner said the vote was "a positive first step forward in providing some much-needed reforms to our farm programs."
"Our farm and food stamp programs need reform," Boehner, R-Ohio, wrote in a statement after the vote. "The status quo is unacceptable, which is why I voted against most of the farm bills of the past two decades and supported this one."
Boehner, who voted for the 1996 farm bill as well as the measure that failed last month, also said that reforming the food stamp programs is "essential."
The bill's passage is a relief for Republican leaders, who were stunned when a vote on the combined legislation failed June 20, 195-234. Separating the two issues, however, won over the support of 48 of 62 Republicans who first opposed the package last month.
One Republican, Rep. Marlin Stutzman, a farmer by trade who was elected behind the Tea Party wave in 2010, lobbied to split the farm bill from nutritional assistance.
"Our goal has been to reform ag and food stamp policy so they can really help the folks they were intended to help," Stutzman, R-Ind., said during debate leading into the vote. "Farm policy and food stamp policy should not be mixed. They should stand on their own merits."
"The days of deceptively-named, budget-busting bills are over," he added. "By splitting the bill we can give taxpayers an honest look at how Washington spends our money."
House Democrats today lined up on the floor of the chamber to speak out against the GOP's decision to separate the legislation, which had traditionally coupled the farm bill with nutritional assistance.
"I will never turn my back on children in the urban core," Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, D-Mo., said during an impassioned speech during debate on the bill. "This bill is not just going to create tension among us, but the people of this country who depend on us."
"I will not, I shall not, I cannot be silent as we continue to divide the nation, and then we think we are doing something good because we are able to say something nasty to somebody," he added. "The people of this country deserve better. We deserve better."
When Cleaver concluded his remarks, Democrats stood to applaud their colleague.
In the debate, Democrats directed their rage at Republicans.
"The Bible says to whom much is given, much is required," Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Fla., said. "This is a sad day in the House of Representatives. Shame on the Republicans! Shame on the House of Representatives!"
The Senate passed its $955 billion 10-year farm bill in a bipartisan vote June 10, 66-27. That bill must be reconciled with the House-passed farm bill and potentially a nutritional assistance measure - should the House pass legislation on that issue in the future.
Republican leaders have pledged to expedite legislation addressing food stamps to the floor, although a timeline has not yet been established on how soon lawmakers could take up the issue.
Asked during a news conference at the Capitol earlier today whether he would potentially bring a conference report back to the House floor that restores nutritional funding, Boehner was characteristically coy.
"If ands and buts were candy and nuts, every day would be Christmas," he said, repeating his go-to line when he is asked a hypothetical question. "We'll get to those issues later."