The U.S. House is struggling to come together on key legislation. (Photo by William Beem.)

By Ashley Lopez
Florida Center for Investigative Reporting

The U.S. House of Representatives didn’t pass its farm bill this week because of a disagreement over an amendment from a Florida congressman. At the same time, a House bipartisan working group is struggling to reach a deal on immigration reform.

According to Politico, House Republicans expected the  farm bill to pass prior to an amendment offered by Rep. Steve Southerland, R-Florida, which would restrict access to food stamps:

For decades, the farm bill has been a beacon of bipartisanship in an increasingly rough-and-tumble chamber. The defeat of Thursday’s version was propelled by the adoption of Florida GOP Rep. Steve Southerland’s amendment to institute work requirements for recipients of food stamps. Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) spoke on behalf of the amendment, indicating his support.

But passage of that amendment doomed the broader bill. Thursday’s episode illustrates in real time that Speaker John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) standard for passing immigration reform will be a massive challenge. Bipartisanship is a process fraught with pitfalls in the House, and leaders in both parties can’t rally their troops to follow them, as 62 Republicans joined 172 Democrats to vote against the bill. Republicans had 171 of their members voting ‘yes,’ and Democrats had 24 in favor.

People involved in the farm debate, irate at the sudden defeat, say the House is plainly not working. Someone’s vote count was off. Someone’s political antennae were frayed. Someone miscalculated the stiff resistance from the rank and file.

The House also hasn’t managed to finalize a deal on immigration reform. A bipartisan working group has tried to reach a compromise several times on a comprehensive immigration reform bill, but negotiations have fallen apart at the last minute as well.

The U.S. Senate, however, is already on formal consideration of its own bipartisan deal. Republicans and Democrats were even able to agree on a proposal to beef up border security, without stalling over parts of the bill — such as a path to citizenship for undocumented people already in the country. This makes it very likely the bill will pass with bipartisan support in the Democratic-led Senate.

The Los Angeles Times reports that the House is stalling on its immigration plans because of “differences over whether immigrants should be deported for failing to have health insurance or pay their healthcare bills”:

House Republican leaders are increasingly concerned that momentum in the Senate, where a bipartisan immigration bill cleared a committee this week, will leave them on defense without their own proposal.

Trying to avoid that outcome, House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) publicly drew a line Thursday by saying his chamber would not accept the Senate legislation.

“The House remains committed to fixing our broken immigration system, but we will not simply take up and accept the bill that is emerging in the Senate if it passes,” Boehner and his GOP leadership team said in a joint statement as the private meeting was ending. “The House will work its will and produce its own legislation.”

House Democrats have their own internal divisions as they determine whether it is best to put their weight behind the Senate bill, which hews more to their political priorities, or push the House group to finish its bipartisan proposal that is certain to be more conservative than the Senate effort.

In the meantime, House committees are passing harsher stand-alone bills that have no chance of passing in the Senate. For example, a House Judiciary panel passed a bill that would make it a federal crime to be undocumented in the United States.