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Stunning farm bill defeat lays bare House dysfunction

The farm bill failed to pass the House Thursday after Republicans began tinkering with the measure, driving off Democrats who otherwise would have voted for it.

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Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D) of Michigan, chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, speaks to reporters as the Senate votes on its farm bill at the Capitol in Washington earlier this month. The House version of the farm bill failed Thursday.

J. Scott Applewhite/AP

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The dysfunctional House of Representatives claimed another legislative victim on Thursday: the farm bill.

Once believed to be a nearly sure-fire bipartisan achievement for Congress this year, the five-year, nearly $1 trillion farm bill unexpectedly went down in flames in the House on Thursday in a 195 to 234 vote, sending a shockwave through rural lawmakers on both sides of the Capitol.

The Republican-led House managed a difficult feat, offering enough conservative amendments to siphon expected Democratic support for the bill while not holding the line in their own caucus enough to move the bill move forward.

“If you overreach, you get nothing, and that’s what we’ve been trying to tell people,” said Rep. Collin Peterson (D) of Minnesota, the top liberal on the House Agriculture Committee, who has worked with Chairman Frank Lucas (R) of Oklahoma to pass the bill and who voted for final passage.

"You carry this too far and you get no reduction in the deficit, you get no reform of the farm programs, you will continue food stamps just exactly like they are with no changes, you will get crop insurance with no changes, that’s exactly where we are at," Representative Peterson said. "We warned people – if you take things too far, sometimes it blows up on you."

The Senate passed its own farm bill in June, 66 to 27. That raised hopes that the House would be able to move its own measure and allow the differences – chiefly, the size of cuts to food stamp programs and policy questions about crop insurance and direct payments to farmers – to be ironed out in a conference between the two chambers.

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