WASHINGTON -- House lawmakers approved a scaled-back version of the farm bill on Thursday after stripping out the popular food-stamp program used by 48 million Americans.
The bill narrowly passed on a Republican 216-208 vote. It focuses solely on farm programs and postpones, at least for now, efforts to overhaul the country's food-stamp program that traditionally has made up 80 percent of spending in the bill. A dozen Republicans voted against the bill while no Democrats voted in favor.
Though Rep. Jared Polis rejected the bill, he said he added language to prevent Uncle Sam from cracking down on colleges and universities that grow industrial hemp in states like Colorado where that's allowed. Polis teamed up with Kentucky Republican Thomas Massie and Oregon Democrat Earl Blumenauer on that amendment.
"Although I strongly opposed the Republican FARRM bill, I was pleased to see that the bipartisan amendment ... was included in the final bill," Polis said. "This commonsense amendment will allow colleges and universities to grow and cultivate industrial hemp for academic and agricultural research purposes."
Rep. Cory Gardner, R-Yuma, said the measure includes two of his provisions - one to increase funding for the federal emergency watershed restoration program and another that seeks to relax environmental regulations faced by rural electrical cooperatives.
The broader bill "provides certainty for America's farmers while modernizing and streamlining our agricultural policy," Gardner said. "Though it is by no means perfect, this legislation represents a major step forward."
House lawmakers last month failed to pass a five-year, $500 billion farm bill that called for the largest cuts in decades to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as the food-stamp program.
The legislation stalled after Republican lawmakers pushed for deeper cuts in SNAP spending, angering Democrats who feared too many poor people would no longer be eligible.
The divide siphoned off votes and left GOP leaders scrambling to find an alternative path forward. The current farm law expires on Sept. 30.
Democrats lined up Thursday to oppose splitting the bill. They criticized Republican leaders for not giving them enough time to review the measure.
The White House late Wednesday said it would veto the 608-page farm bill because it omitted SNAP spending and did not "contain sufficient commodity and crop insurance reforms."
The Senate last month passed its version of the farm bill, which includes agriculture and nutrition programs.
House passage means leaders in both the House and Senate are a step closer toward drafting a final farm bill. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said splitting the farm bill was unusual and not his preferred approach.
But, he said, "my goal is to get a farm bill passed."
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