Farm Bill blocked in House after immigration-vote deal collapses

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A five-year $867 billion farm bill was rejected in the U.S. House after GOP leaders were unable to quell a rebellion by a group of conservatives who are demanding new restrictions on legal immigration.

The failure to pass the farm legislation, which would have imposed new work requirements for food stamps and extended subsidies, is an embarrassing blow to House Speaker Paul Ryan, who is being pressured by multiple Republican factions as they prepare to face reelection in November. GOP leaders said they would bring up the bill again, though they didn’t say when. Current farm programs expire Sept. 30.

Lawmakers voted 198 to 213 to defeat the measure Friday after members of the Freedom Caucus, about three dozen conservative Republicans, rebuffed an offer from GOP leadership to schedule a June vote on a bill that would eliminate a diversity visa lottery and impose other limits in exchange for temporary protection for young undocumented immigrants.

Democrats also opposed the legislation because of the work requirements it would impose on recipients of food stamps.

Several Freedom Caucus members said they didn’t trust the party leadership to hold a vote later on the immigration legislation and instead want it to take place before a the farm legislation. “We’ve been promised a vote again and again,” said Scott Perry, a Pennsylvania Republican and member of the Freedom Caucus.

Scuttled deal

Dennis Ross, a Florida Republican who is part of the GOP leadership team, said he’d thought the Freedom Caucus had reached a deal. “They never say yes to anything,” Ross said of the group.

The legislation is popular among rural Republicans but criticized by others in the party for what’s seen as wasteful farm-program and food-stamp spending.

The farm legislation, sponsored by House Agriculture Committee Chairman Michael Conaway, a Texas Republican, survived an attempt add a provision to revamp a controversial sugar program. Some lawmakers, with support from candy-makers, unsuccessfully sought to eliminate production limits that keep sugar prices higher for growers.

The legislation would shift some money from benefits to workforce training, while increasing the number of people required to comply with work requirements. Republicans say the requirements are needed to move food stamp recipients into the labor force at a time of worker shortages. Democrats oppose those provisions because they say they’ll reduce benefits and increase paperwork without effectively moving people into the workforce.

House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi said Republicans should now drop cuts to food stamp benefits and work with Democrats on a new bill.

Steve Scalise of Louisiana, the No. 3 House Republican, said the farm measure is “an important bill. We’re not done with it.” He said leaders would seek to address lawmakers’ immigration concerns. “We’re going to work until we get this done,” he said.