Republicans reacted with anger and disappointment at the defeat of the 2013 Farm Bill in the U.S. House on Thursday that included a work requirement for food-stamp recipients patterned on the successful 1996 welfare reform act.
But Steve Southerland, R-Panama City, one of the chief champions of reform, vowed to continue the fight.
The amendment Southerland sponsored would have given states the power to require those on the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program — the formal name of the program — to work or prove they are seeking work, returning to school or participating in training to return to the work force.
Southerland said his amendment was based on the same work-requirement principles that underlined the 1996 welfare law. That law, which liberals predicted at the time would spell doom for the country’s poor, reduced welfare cases by 60 percent nationwide.
“A majority of the House took a stand today on the side of empowering individuals in need with the same sensible work and job training requirements as those included in bipartisan welfare reform of the 1990s,” Southerland said in a statement.
“Our amendment provided states with the voluntary option of following a proven path to self-sufficiency, while ensuring the most vulnerable among us receive the support they need in a more efficient and effective manner.”
He accused House Democrats of using “scare tactics” to fight the SNAP reforms, as they did during the 1996 debate.
“Unfortunately, some of my colleagues resorted to last-minute political posturing and scare tactics that derailed an entire Farm Bill that America’s farmers and agricultural industries desperately need,” he said in the statement.
“I remain committed to advancing a Farm Bill out of the House, and to upholding the value of work for able-bodied Americans.”
Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., the ranking Democrat on the Agriculture Committee, blamed Southerland’s amendment for the bill’s failure to attract enough Democratic votes.
“I told (Majority Leader Eric Cantor) that Southerland cost us 15 votes,” Peterson told The Hill newspaper after the vote. “A lot of people came up to me and said, ‘I’m with you, but I’m out now.’”
Florida Gov. Rick Scott was a strong supporter of Southerland’s proposal, writing House Speaker John Boehner to seek his backing and noting that the provisions in Southerland’s amendment were similar to the requirements Florida residents must fulfill to receive unemployment assistance.
Sixty-two Republicans voted against the bill; some because of the food stamp cuts and reforms, some because those reforms didn’t go far enough.
Rep. Steve King told The Hill he was taken off guard by the number of GOP no votes.
“I was surprised by about half of them,” he said. “I thought they would have taken more of a 10,000-foot view. We are ending direct payments in this bill, we are starting to reverse the obscene growth of the food stamp program.”
A Senate version of the Farm Bill that passed last week did not include the provisions that were in the House bill. Differences between the two would have to have been resolved in conference committee.
U.S. Rep. Ted Yoho, a veterinarian and the only member of Florida’s congressional delegation on the Agriculture Committee, said fellow Republicans missed a chance for real reform in Thursday’s vote.
“I am extremely disappointed that some of my Republican colleagues did not recognize a conservative movement toward market-based policy and solid welfare reform when they saw it,” he said in a statement.
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