In a surprise defeat for GOP leaders, the House on Thursday rejected a massive farm bill.
What this means is that the House essentially voted to maintain the current food stamp policy and direct payments to farmers (some who live in Manhattan and simply own land in rural farm areas in the Midwest). It means no changes to the dairy program -- and this means that dairy prices could spike come fall if they don't find a fix.
They are currently operating on an emergency extension from last year on part of the farm bill.
"Farm bills" are five-year enterprises. They don't do one every year. All this does is replace an older farm law that dates back to the late 1940s.
The last time the House approved a farm bill was in 2008. They were supposed to re-up last year -- but could never find the votes -- and thus, never even brought a measure to the floor. A partial reauthorization of the existing farm programs came in the fiscal cliff deal, finally okayed on New Year's Day.
The Senate was able to pass farm bills the last two years with wide bipartisan margins.
The problem with not passing a farm bill is particular to dairy -- if they don't renew that, dairy prices after Sept. 30 could spike as things would revert to 1940s policy for "hundredweight" (the industry-wide unit of measurement for raw dairy products).
What the farm bill defeat means for other big issues:
This unexpected farm bill defeat portends potentially bad things as the House proceeds to other major issues later this year. Very soon, the House may have to tackle immigration reform -- to say nothing of the effort come fall to try to keep the government open and raise the debt ceiling. Failure to pass the farm bill, by far the simplest of any of these issues, is not good for the House GOP leadership and their ability to wrestle with these big issues.
Moreover, there are serious internal political implications for House Republicans on this. Usually when a measure doesn't have the votes, they pull it from the floor rather than watching it go down to defeat. This is indicative of a questionable whip operation. Secondly, there was a lot of chatter about just wrapping the farm bill up next week if they didn't have the votes. Instead, they forged ahead.
And then, there are the problems for Republicans who voted for the bill, but really didn't want to.
By going ahead with a vote, the GOP leadership team has effectively made its members take a vote, and in some cases vote for a bill that they really weren't comfortable with. There will be some hard questioning of GOP leaders by the rank-and-file about why they moved ahead with this. Secondly, they created an unnecessary vote that Tea Party and conservative candidates can use against sitting Republican members in a primary.
Finally, it is a long-standing tradition where the speaker of the House usually doesn't vote. But House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, voted on the dairy amendment offered by Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., the only time he has ever voted on an amendment since moving to the speaker's chair. Secondly, Boehner then went off-campus to speak before the National Association of Manufacturers and made a special trip back to the Capitol to cast a yea vote on the bill itself.
No one here can remember when a sitting speaker actually cast a vote on a bill that was defeated.