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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

McMorris Rodgers: Farm bill failure tied to immigration fight

WASHINGTON, D.C. –Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, R-Wis., joined by Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., and Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., praises the Farm Bill earlier this week before debate. The bill failed Friday. (J. Scott Applewhite / AP)

GOP conservatives in the House Freedom Caucus sank the 2018 farm bill on Friday, dealing a setback to House Republican leaders including Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers.

The conservative caucus wanted farm bill funding tied to changes in the nation’s immigration policy.

McMorris Rodgers, the Spokane Republican who is a member of the House GOP leadership team, said she was disappointed by the defeat of the bill, which is important to Eastern Washington farmers.

The House Freedom Caucus broke with its leadership, joining unified Democrats in defeating the bill, which would authorize most farm programs and contained changes to food stamps, also known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP. That caucus wants changes to immigration laws, including money for a border wall, in separate legislation.

“It really pointed to a frustration around immigration,” McMorris Rodgers said. “I was impressing on my colleagues the importance of moving forward on the farm bill.”

But Friday’s vote shows that without an agreement on immigration, it will be very difficult to move forward on the farm bill, she said.

Lisa Brown, McMorris Rodgers’ Democratic opponent in this year’s election, said the House needs to “go back to the table” and pursue a bipartisan farm bill that keeps farmers on their land producing food and assistance for those who need it. “This bill isn’t bipartisan because onerous work requirements were added to the SNAP program that will hurt, not help, families and communities,” she said.

Immigration should be addressed separately, Brown said.

Rep. Dan Newhouse, a Republican from Central Washington’s 4th District, said in an email that he, too, was disappointed that “House Democrats and some Republicans joined together to vote against farmers.”

The bill had support for agriculture research, would have strengthened market access and SNAP, and repealed a rule governing rivers and streams, he said, adding that Congress must fulfill its commitment and pass a bill.

Washington’s four Republican House members voted yes while its six Democratic members voted no.

In Idaho, Rep. Mike Simpson voted yes; Rep. Raul Labrador didn’t vote.

Not even a tweet from President Donald Trump supporting the farm bill could save it from the chaos Friday. It was defeated 213-198.

The vote was a blow to GOP leaders, exposing the power struggle underway as leaders jockey to replace Speaker Paul Ryan, who is not seeking re-election, the Associated Press reported. It disrupts GOP efforts to portray party unity ahead of the midterm election and to rack up legislative wins to motivate voters to the polls to keep their majority.

Trump is “disappointed in the result of today’s vote” and “hopes the House can resolve any remaining issues,” Deputy Press Secretary Lindsay Walters said.

The outcome also shelves for now the big, five-year farm bill, a top GOP priority because it combines stricter work and job training requirements for food stamp recipients – long pushed by Ryan as part of his safety net cuts – with a renewal of farm subsidies popular in GOP-leaning farm country.

Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, a leader of the House Freedom Caucus who has expressed an interest in running for House speaker, told the AP that some conservatives had concerns over the farm bill, largely because of its spending, but “my main focus was making sure we do immigration policy right.”

Democrats are strongly opposed to the farm bill, saying the stricter work and job training rules are poorly designed and would drive 2 million people off food stamps.

Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., the head of the Freedom Caucus, told reporters there was “no deal” on immigration. He downplayed the setback on the farm bill, saying “it’s not a fatal blow. It’s just a reorganizing.”

The scramble will likely drive more Republicans to sign on to the renegade effort to push the compromise immigration bill to a floor vote over the objection of party leaders.

Conservatives defended their move, saying they are standing for voters who want Trump’s border wall and other stricter immigration measures and want assurances that GOP leaders would not help an overly moderate immigration bill clear the House.

The farm bill setback debacle appears to make it more likely that Congress will simply extend the current farm bill when it expires in September.

In the Senate, Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., is promising a competing bill later this month. He’s signaling that its changes to food stamps would be far more modest than the House measure.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.