The Politics of Poverty

Ideas and analysis from Oxfam America's policy experts

Digging into the numbers of the food aid reform vote in Congress

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What did it all mean?

This is probably more than you want to know.  But in case you do, here’s some analysis of last week’s vote on food aid reform.

The final vote tally for the Royce-Engel vote was 203 Yea and 220 No.

Across party lines

98 Democrats voted for the amendment, 105 Republicans.
94 Democrats voted against, 126 Republicans.

45 percent of voting Republicans supported the amendment and 51 percent of voting Democrats supported the amendment.

Analysis:  The vote was remarkably bipartisan, which isquite unusual in this era of hyper-partisanship. 

Across committees

83 percent of voting Agriculture Committee members opposed the amendment.
71 percent of voting Foreign Affairs Committee members supported it.

Analysis:  The amendment was, in part, a jurisdictional fight between the Agriculture Committee and the Foreign Affairs Committee

57 percent of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) voting supported the amendment.
46 percent of the Tea Party Caucus voted for the amendment.

Analysis:  The amendment vote reflected, in part, different perspectives on the role of government, but there wasn’t a consensus among the CBC or Tea Party Caucus.

Regional differences

Below is how the districts lined up. (Thanks to Michael Tribe!) YES is green, NO red, and NOT VOTING yellow.

Map courtesy of Michael Tribe http://linkd.in/12khclH
Royce-Engel votes per district. Map courtesy of Michael Tribe http://linkd.in/12khclH

Analysis:  The ‘iron-triangle’ of special interests that resist food aid reform includes agricultural commodity groups, agribusiness, ports, and shippers.  The map shows some correlation to these interests, although there are many exceptions. For example, in regional coastal blocs, where you would assume maritime lobbies were active on this issue, votes were inconsistent:

  • New England coast & NY: all either YES or around 50%
  • DE & NJ: NO
  • MD south to FL Atlantic coast: all either YES or around 50%
  • Gulf Coast: NO from AL west to TX
  • Eastern Great Lakes (PA, OH, MI): NO
  • Western & Central Great Lakes (IN, IL, WI, MN): YES or 50%
  • South & Central Pacific coast in CA, OR: YES or 50%
  • PacNW & islands: NOES in WA, AK, HI

Farm Bill, food stamps and food aid

The Farm Bill itself, went down in flames and finger pointing by a vote of 195 to 234.

138 members supported the amendment but opposed the final Farm Bill.
63 members supported the amendment and supported the final Farm Bill.

The highest profile amendment of the day was the McGovern amendment to restore funding to the domestic food stamps program, which failed 188 to 234.

103 members supported Royce-Engel, but opposed McGovern.
97 members supported Royce-Engel and supported McGovern.

Analysis:  It’s a bit simplistic to say it, but food aid reform is more popular than the Farm Bill itself.  And food aid reform garnered more votes than domestic food assistance.  But supporters of food aid reform were not aligned with – or against – either the Farm Bill or domestic food assistance.   

What does it all mean?  There’s a case to be made that if the House leadership and Agriculture Committee had supported food aid reform, they might have passed the Farm Bill after all.  Will they?  Are there other channels to pursue food aid reform?

It’s complicated.  But it’s clear that the failure of the Royce-Engel amendment is not the final word on food aid reform.

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