"I'm willing to go back to the table to help them fix this. If they will listen to me, I can deliver a lot of Democratic votes," Peterson told reporters in the Capitol while Conaway canceled a scheduled media availability.
In a statement, Conaway said, "We experienced a setback today after a streak of victories all week. We may be down, but we are not out. We will deliver a strong, new farm bill on time as the president of the United States has called on us to do. Our nation's farmers and ranchers and rural America deserve nothing less."
In a stunning defeat for the House Republican leadership, the bill went down to defeat, with 198 members voting for the bill and 213 voting against it.
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A total of 215 votes were needed to pass it. All Democrats opposed it, and 30 Republicans also voted against it.
While Freedom Caucus members who want a vote on immigration claimed to have brought the bill down, Peterson noted that moderate Republicans considered the work requirements and tougher access standards in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) too harsh. The record shows that the Republicans who voted against it included House Appropriations Committee Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-N.J.; Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y.; and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., all of whom are considered moderate Republicans.
Under House rules, the House could introduce a motion to reconsider the bill within two legislative days. There was an attempt to introduce that motion today, but it stopped midway. It's not clear how exactly reconsideration could take place – whether it would have to be exactly the same bill or one with some changes.
Peterson said that the bill can still get done this year, but an extension would have only two problems: farmers' inability to change from the Agricultural Risk Coverage to the Price Loss Coverage program, and no increase in acreage under the Conservation Reserve Program. The dairy program has already been fixed, he said.
Peterson said he was glad he has opposed past efforts to get rid of the 1938 and 1949 laws that would go into effect if a farm bill is not passed, because those permanent laws will force an extension.
But he also said he would prefer to finish the bill this year because it will be harder to pass next year whether the Republicans or the Democrats control the House – in the latter case, Peterson would be chairman.
Peterson said his staff is willing to work this weekend with the Republican staff if they are needed.
Peterson repeated earlier statements that he had developed his opposition to the SNAP provisions on his own after visiting local welfare offices in his Minnesota district and in neighboring North Dakota, and that frequent statements that he is following House Minority Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., are incorrect. Pelosi, he said, "did not know what I was doing until the night before [the House Agriculture Committee markup]," Peterson said, even though Pelosi had criticized the Republican bill the week before.
Peterson noted that he decided to oppose the GOP on food stamp changes even though "this is not popular in my district." He added, however, that his position had helped attract Democratic votes to defeat the sugar amendment, which would have hurt his farmers who produce more sugar beets than any other district in the country.
The GOP nutrition title is based on stricter work requirements, but Peterson said that his biggest objection is the creation of a bureaucracy that is supposed to train people who do not have jobs. The bill would save money because some SNAP beneficiaries would drop out of the program and the money would go toward training programs that critics say would amount to only $30 per month per trainee.
The cost of training two million people adequately "would be $50 billion," Peterson said.
Peterson has been regarded as a conservative Democrat, but today he vigorously defended the SNAP program. "Everybody gets down on their luck some time or other," Peterson said, noting that most SNAP participants are on the program for less than a year.
"There is less fraud in food stamps than in crop insurance," he said.